‘Fatal Vision’ doctor again denied new trial in 1970 slayings

December 22, 2018
Jeffrey MacDonald (Photo courtesy of Kathryn MacDonald)

A federal appeals court has refused to grant a new trial to a former Army surgeon convicted of slaughtering his pregnant wife and two young daughters at Fort Bragg nearly half a century ago.

Jeffrey MacDonald has adamantly claimed innocence in the 1970 murders, arguing that a band of drug-crazed hippies broke into his house that night and killed his family. The murders became known as the “Fatal Vision” case, the title of a 1983 true-crime book and subsequent television miniseries.

After decades of failed appeals, MacDonald again sought to clear his name by asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a federal judge’s 2014 ruling rejecting a new trial. On Friday, the 4th Circuit court upheld that ruling.

MacDonald’s latest appeal was based on hairs that did not match the family’s DNA and a deputy U.S. marshal who accused the prosecution of intimidating a witness.

The appeals court agreed with the lower-court ruling that MacDonald failed to meet the threshold that the evidence, if presented to a jury, could possibly change the outcome of his conviction.

“MacDonald insists that the DNA and other new physical evidence augments his trial evidence ... as well as potentially-exculpatory lost evidence,” the three-judge panel wrote in its 154-page ruling. “By contrast, the government views the new evidence as just as weak and speculative as MacDonald’s trial evidence and any lost evidence. In all these decades, the government maintains, MacDonald has failed to make a convincing showing of murderous intruders or to refute the powerful evidence that belies his account.”

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