The 1970 case of Jeffrey MacDonald and the murders of his family garnered national attention, perhaps because they came close on the heels of the Manson Family murders. MacDonald, an Army doctor stationed in North Carolina, is serving three life sentences right now for the murders of his wife and his two daughters. He has maintained his innocence from the beginning.
MacDonald and his attorneys have requested a new trial. A federal judge this week moved the case forward by ordering the prosecution to respond to the motion no later than Dec. 1.
According to court documents, defense counsel are basing their motion on DNA testing. They request that the court order a new trial based on existing DNA test results. If the existing evidence is not considered, the defense asks that new, more advanced DNA testing be conducted on all physical evidence.
Two independent advocacy groups would pay for the new tests: the Innocence Project and the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. According to court documents, representatives from the Innocence Project believe the testing can be completed quickly.
The defendant requested DNA testing in 1997, and it is those test results that are the subject of the motion. The evidence referred to is most likely the weapons used in the crimes: a piece of wood that was used as a club, two paring knives and an ice pick.
Representatives from the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence argue that testing procedures and the accuracy of results have improved dramatically in the intervening years. The Center asserts that DNA testing on other evidence, including pieces of a surgical glove and fingernail scrapings, would now be more reliable.
The matter came back to the court from the U.S. 4th District Court of Appeals. The panel overturned the judge’s initial refusal to consider both DNA evidence and witness statements in the defendant’s motion for a new trial.
Source: News & Observer, “MacDonald case awaits U.S. reply,” Sept. 23, 2011