Family Violence & Homicide

An Innocent Man [Part II]: The Trial of Captain Jeffrey MacDonald – A Critique of the Case

The second in a 3-part series from Australian true crime writer Stephen Karadjis taking a detailed look at the case of Green Beret Captain Jeffrey MacDonald who was given three consecutive life sentences in 1979 for the murder of his family. Click here to read Part I.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, February 17, 1970, Jeffrey MacDonald’s pregnant wife and two small daughters were brutally murdered in their home, on post, at the Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina. Despite close to half a century having passed, since that cold and rainy winter night, it has remained a highly controversial case. In August 1974, a Grand Jury convened to hear the case and on January 24, 1975 Jeffrey MacDonald was indicted on three counts of murder.

Legal Twists and Turns

After the indictment, Defense attorney Bernard Segal then began to maneuver in a legal manner. He appealed the decision on the grounds his client had not received a speedy trial. He won this appeal in 1976. The prosecution, in turn, appealed to the Supreme Court and in 1978 MacDonald’s murder indictment was upheld once again. Bernard Segal, in turn, filed a writ for relief on the grounds of double-jeopardy, since his client Jeffrey MacDonald, had been acquitted by the Article 32 hearing, a judicial proceeding. The prosecution countered, claiming the Army hearing had been a mere investigative matter and therefore did not constitute a judicial enquiry. The courts again ruled with the prosecution and the indictment stood. Finally, after years of legal wrangling, a trial date was set for July 19, 1979, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Non-Disclosure of Crucial Findings Pertaining to Key Physical Evidence

As the trial approached, assistant prosecutor Brian Murtagh decided to review certain physical evidence that had been worrying him.

On December 5, 1978, he met with FBI laboratory technicians to discuss the physical evidence. The trial was due to commence the following year. Then, on December 14 he wrote to the section chief of the FBI’s scientific analysis team. Specifically, Murtagh wanted the lab to identify the source of a blue acrylic fiber found in Colette MacDonald’s right-hand grasp.

The task was handed to James C. Frier and assistant Kathy Bond. But, the pair were unable to locate the source. This was despite examining all the items of clothing and linen taken into evidence from the MacDonald apartment at the time of the murders. However, in their pursuit they made other startling discoveries that challenged findings made nine years earlier by Dillard Browning of the army CID laboratory.

Browning had concluded in 1970 that three fibers found among the debris around Colette MacDonald’s mouth had come from MacDonald’s blue pajama top. But, when Frier and Bond re-examined these fibers they discovered they were not made of cotton (the pajama top was made entirely of cotton). Instead, two of the fibers were made of black wool. Browning, they discovered, had made another mistake. He had identified three fibers taken from Colette’s torso as being nylon. But Frier and Bond discovered one of these fibers was made of rayon, one of white wool and one of black wool. Furthermore, they could not match these fibers with any fabric samples taken from the murder apartment.

When assistant prosecutor Brian Murtagh was informed of these discrepancies, he instructed the FBI pair to examine other exhibits, including debris from the club wielded at Colette MacDonald. As a result, they discovered two black wool fibers which had been taken from the club used to fracture her skull and both her arms, and used to fracture the skull of Kimberley MacDonald. In 1970, the army CID had listed these two fibers, found on the club, as pajama fibers. But, MacDonald’s pajamas were made of cotton. This was a monumental error on the part of the army CID’s scientific laboratory. The question needs to be asked here, how could so blatant an error have been made?

Frier’s lab notes did not list pajama fibers being found on the murder club, which was in direct contradiction to the army CID’s 1970 lab findings. The case in point, is there were very different findings between the FBI’s 1979 review findings of the fiber evidence and that of the CID’s 1970 findings.

The new evidence pointed to Colette MacDonald having been attacked by a person or persons wearing material made of black wool and blue acrylic fibers. She had fought off a violent attack and there was black wool around her mouth area from being struck with the club, black wool on her body and on the club. These black wool fibers were never traced to any source. Not to any clothing or any fabric taken from the apartment and, not from any material worn by the military police.

In his official report dated March 14, 1979, Frier omits any mention of these discrepancies between the FBI findings and the CID findings. This was despite the fact that they had only just been discovered. Furthermore, his report to Brian Murtagh does not mention the discovery of the black wool fibers.

When the black wool fiber evidence was discovered in documents released in 1990 through the Freedom of Information Act, Brian Murtagh denied all knowledge of the findings even though he was the person who had initiated the review in the first place. In March 1979, he had convened a three-day meeting with the FBI laboratory to discuss the physical evidence. The FBI’s published official letter, addressed to Brian Murtagh at the time states, no other fibers of apparent comparison significance could be associated with the items specifically requested in the referenced letter.” The letter is worded with legal jargon. In simple language, it means that the newly discovered fibers did not match any other fibers and could not be traced to any known source. This means the fiber evidence in question had come from other persons (lending weight to intruders having been present in the murder apartment).

Defense attorney Bernard Segal, had been seeking permission to examine the physical evidence since 1975 (after MacDonald’s Grand Jury indictment). His requests were denied.  Then, a matter of days before the trial was due to start, in July 1979, the defense was permitted to view the evidence – but not examine it. In any event, by this time it was too late to find what they might be looking for, as there were boxes stacked to the ceiling, one on top of the other, crammed into a single jail-cell at the Raleigh court house.

The new physical evidence of black wool fibers and a blue acrylic fiber was kept from the defense, and the jurors never knew of its existence.

Just prior to trial, assistant prosecutor Brian Murtagh, dispatched a memorandum to his law clerk, Jeffrey Puretz. He wanted to know what evidence he could withhold from the defense, without breaking the law. He put four questions to Puretz. The first, “What are the Constitutional Due Process Requirements for Disclosure of Exculpatory Materials by the Prosecutor pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, in the Fourth Circuit?” The fourth, “At what point in time must exculpatory materials be disclosed to the defense in a criminal proceeding?” The finding in Brady v. Maryland had been that exculpatory material must always be available to the defense…to do otherwise is to violate due process…”

The law clerk’s answer to Murtagh was, these timing cases indicate the difficult showing…where a partial open file policy has been followed, with non-disclosure items submitted for in-camera view…” This legalese meant, that if prosecutors allowed rudimentary access to evidence, even with barely enough time to look at the evidence (it was days before the trial), it would be difficult later for the defense to argue that they had been denied access.

In Tainting Evidence-Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab, Kelly and Wearne write that, machinations by his prosecutors, in conjunction with the FBI lab, had prevented any jury hearing that evidence at his trial.”

The Trial of Jeffrey MacDonald: July-August 1979

The trial began at 9:45 a.m. in the morning. Judge Franklin T. Dupree, Jr. presided. The prosecution was to speak first-up. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Blackburn, the lead prosecutor, rose and introduced his legal team, which consisted of several prominent members, the most important being Brian Murtagh of the Justice Department and two other attorneys from the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Jeffrey MacDonald (centre) at the courthouse in 1979
Jeffrey MacDonald (centre) arriving at the courthouse in 1979 with defense attorney Bernard Segal (right) Source:

In his opening address before the court, chief prosecutor Blackburn outlined to the jurors the main points which he said would prove the defendant guilty of the homicide of his family. He explained each of these points in some detail.

  1. A crime scene that was untarnished and well controlled – yielding evidence which had been impeccably preserved.
  2. That everything in the murder apartment had been photographed. This implied that there was a reliable record of the crime scene as it was first found.
  3. That some of the weapons came from within the house (it was never proven that any weapons came from the home) the supposition here being that perhaps all the weapons were MacDonald’s.
  4. That there was a gruesome overkill of Colette MacDonald, Kimberley and Kristen MacDonald.
  5. That MacDonald’s wounds were slight in comparison to those of his wife and children, underplaying the seriousness of some of them.
  6. That the defendant, unlike his wife and two children, was “very much alive”.
  7. That there was a lot of blood in the house, although more poignantly, where there was a lack of blood – in the living room (apart from a spot on an edition of Esquire magazine) where MacDonald said he had fought off four intruders.
  8. That there were no blue pajama threads found in the living room where the defendant contended it was torn during the assault upon him.
  9. That Colette’s blood type A was on the pajama top before it was torn, implying that it could not have gotten onto the fabric at the time MacDonald said he had laid it over his wife’s chest.
  10. Lastly, that MacDonald had stabbed his wife Colette 21 times with an ice pick.

In conclusion, it would show that the physical evidence pointed to one person having killed the family. “We are concentrating, ladies and gentlemen, on the physical evidence.”

William Ivory Takes The Stand

William Ivory was the lead army investigator. It was his first murder case and he was put in charge. Answering Blackburn’s questions, he assured the prosecutor nothing in the apartment had been moved. This contradicted the testimony he had confessed reluctantly nine years earlier, at the Army Article 32 hearing. To add weight to this claim, the prosecutor introduced selected crime-scene photographs.

It was apparent immediately, to defense attorney Bernard Segal, that this was a calculated move to revive the “staged crime scene”. Segal requested to approach the bench. He protested that the only admissible photographs should be those taken immediately upon the arrival of the military police. None of course had been – and it had been proven at the Army hearing nine years earlier, that things had indeed been moved by the military police prior to William Ivory arriving some 15 minutes later.

Judge Dupree countermanded the objection, and the testimony proceeded as factual evidence, despite this not being the case. What this ruling did, was to extend the time-period where supposedly nothing in the apartment was moved, right up until the arrival of the photographers some several hours later.

Throughout his testimony, William Ivory used the term “fragile evidence” suggesting his respect for the meticulous gathering of forensic material.

The “Rock Report” – Ruled Inadmissible As Evidence

Another cornerstone of the defense’s case to be dealt the death-knell, was the evidence given at the Army Article 32 hearing in 1970.

Judge Dupree disallowed the entire report, including its contents, testimony, cross-examination of witnesses and the ultimate findings and conclusions. This report had found MacDonald innocent in 1970, at a time when the evidence and witness testimony was fresh and first-hand.

Back in 1975, at the time of the Grand Jury hearing, which led to MacDonald’s indictment, defense attorney Segal had petitioned the court to have the trial declared null and void on the grounds of double-jeopardy, since the defendant had already been tried once at the army hearing five years earlier. At the time, the prosecution had argued that such a hearing did not constitute a judicial proceeding, rather an investigative process. The court, on that occasion sided with the prosecution and based on this determination a trial was ordered. Now, four years later, at trial, the prosecution reversed its position, stating that the army hearing had indeed been a judicial matter and, as such, should be excluded as evidence.

Defense attorney Segal protested that the prosecution had initially taken one position to have the double-jeopardy claim overturned successfully, and now took the opposite position, so that the “Rock Report” from the army hearing could be blocked as evidence. He argued that they had used the Army Article 32 report both ways to suit their case.

Judge Dupree again sided with the prosecution. He barred the report from being heard in court or entered as evidence.

Judge Dupree’s stranglehold on Disclosure Plea

In the intervening years from 1970 following the murders, the army investigators worked in harness with the government prosecutors in their efforts to accumulate evidence against MacDonald, in the hope of persuading the courts, to convene a Grand Jury hearing. By the time of the trial in 1979, they had amassed boxloads of material. These documents and exhibits included – specific witness statements, grand jury testimonies and the handwritten laboratory notes from the lab technicians who had tested the physical evidence.

Defense attorney Bernard Segal had made numerous requests over the years to assistant prosecutor Brian Murtagh, of the Justice Department, for access to these documents. But his appeals fell on deaf-ears. Murtagh had ignored the requests. It should be pointed-out, that the defense team had equal right to examine these documents, so they could defend their charge, since the end goal of prosecutors was to secure a murder conviction.

With those considerations in mind, Segal asked Judge Dupree that Murtagh make available the documents. This was a final plea for complete disclosure. But Dupree replied abruptly – “I will not so rule”. His ruling raises the question of judicial fairness, for if the defense were given no opportunity to examine the material the government had access to for years, it was impossible to know whether any of the prosecutor’s claims, which the jury were privy to hear, were based on fact or indeed false. But this is precisely what happened and his ruling stood.

Colonel Rock had presided at the army hearing in 1970. He had asked his own questions and after hearing all the witness testimony from the military police in the murder house that morning, he concluded that various things inside the residence had indeed been moved about, taken and touched and that the crime scene had not been preserved. According to Potter and Bost, in Fatal Justice-Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders this included:

“…strangers in the apartment that morning moving things, touching things, sitting on the furniture, a wallet stolen, rings from the dresser had gone missing, clothing moved, windows being opened and closed, drawers shut, the flower-pot had been stood upright from resting on its side, the baby’s bottle wiped clean and moved, MacDonald’s eye-glasses moved, the kettle had been used to boil water, evidence the corpses of the victims had been moved, the telephone handset wiped clean of prints and blood prior to being used to make a telephone call, a knife wiped clean…”

This contamination of the crime scene was disclosed from witness testimony, during the army hearing, by the military policemen in the ground-floor murder apartment that morning.

When Bernard Segal cross-examined William Ivory, the army investigator continued to deny anything had been moved inside the residence, and that the crime scene was impeccably preserved. He continued to claim that the photographs taken hours after military police, neighbors and strangers had entered the premises, represented the home, as it had first been found upon entry. His testimony contradicted his earlier reluctant confessions to Colonel Rock in 1970. But, because Judge Dupree had ruled the “Rock Report” inadmissible and denied the defense access to the numerous documents and laboratory notes and its findings, attorney Segal had no defense and could not show the jurors that Ivory’s claims of a preserved crime scene were not true.

For example, as detailed earlier, candle wax had been discovered on one of the slats of the upturned coffee table in the living room. The laboratory had tested this wax and found it to be recent and did not match the wax from any of the 14 candles found in the home. MacDonald had said from the very beginning, that one of the intruders was a woman “carrying a flickering light” which he assumed to be a candle.

When questioned on the candle wax, William Ivory replied, “as I recall, that wax that was found there was old wax on the table and it was similar to some candle wax of candles found within the house.” Defense attorney Segal was aware that this statement from Ivory contradicted the CID laboratory report given to Colonel Rock at the army hearing in 1970. But, since Judge Dupree had ruled the “Rock Report” inadmissible in court, Segal was unable to show the jurors that Ivory’s statement was a lie. He was not allowed to present the report, or mention anything from it.

As William Ivory remained on the witness stand, the prosecution brought in the exhibits. These included – “vials, bloody bedsheets, photographs, flipcharts of body outlines, pieces of rugs, sections of wall, boards sawn out of the floors, surgical gloves, magazines, a bed slat, and a pocket torn off MacDonald’s pajama top.” As each new exhibit was carried into open court and placed on a table, the prosecution made use of grandstanding and showmanship, by calling out the name and details of each – as though each individual item proved that MacDonald, and no one else, was somehow guilty.

The possibility of drug-affected intruders (belonging to a cult) being responsible for a home invasion, for the planned purpose of intimidation, but which had gone wrong, and led instead to the subsequent slayings, had not been disproven.

The exhibits continued to be brought into open court, well into the next day, until there were boxloads. In all, a total of 175 items were placed on the tables provided. Remember, that the defense was never given an opportunity to examine any of these exhibits. They were only allowed to view the stacks of boxes in the jail-cell a few days before the trial.

Blood Stains on the Blue Bedsheet

The prosecution contended that MacDonald had beaten his wife in the master bedroom and a second time in toddler Kristen’s room. Later, in his effort to stage the crime-scene he allegedly stripped the blue bed-sheet from the master-bed and wrapped his unconscious wife in it, prior to carrying her back to the master bedroom, to make it appear as if she had never left her own room. He then allegedly stabbed her to death with a knife and an ice pick, which he allegedly took from the kitchen utensils, although it has never been proven that any of the murder weapons came from the MacDonald home. That is, apart from the wooden club which had come from – the back yard!

To show the jurors that this was what had occurred, the prosecution brought to the witness stand Paul Stombaugh of the FBI’s scientific laboratory. He gave testimony, that certain bloodstains discovered on the sheet were the, “murderer’s handprints and shoulder print.” But, when cross-examined by defense attorney Segal, the lab man admitted that his interpretation of the stains was merely his opinion. He admitted, that he had made no attempt to duplicate the stain, using a model’s shoulder and hand, layered with ink. He further admitted to his failure to use a microscope to search for hair follicle patterns within the stains. This is the standard scientific method to determine the source (perpetrator). Yet, who were the jurors more likely to believe – a distinguished looking scientist or a boisterous, big city, defense attorney, who blew into town?

The Blue Pajama Top

The most damning piece of physical evidence used to prosecute MacDonald at trial in 1979 was the blue pajama top.

Jeffrey MacDonald has always said he was attacked in the living room and his pajama top came to be wrapped about his forearms and wrists during the alleged struggle with intruders. That he tried to fend off the assault from sharp blades, with his hands bound like they were. He says he was knocked unconscious and when he came to, he laid his pajama top over his wife in a futile effort (he realized she was dead) to keep her warm and stem the bleeding.

The Army CID said a struggle took place between MacDonald and his wife in the master bedroom, and not with intruders. They contend that once MacDonald had murdered his wife and elder daughter Kimberley, he then proceeded to stage the crime scene, to make it look as if there had been intruders. They allege he stabbed his already deceased wife and elder daughter and cold bloodedly stabbed and killed his younger daughter Kristen.

They said, that he must have forgotten he had placed his pajama top over his wife’s chest, when he proceeded to stab her with the ice pick. This would account for his need to allegedly fabricate the story of the pajama top becoming entangled about his forearms during a struggle with assailants in the living room.

That the prosecution maintains he had forgotten he had placed his pajama top over his wife is not at all logical. For if he was not trying to save her life – why would he attempt to keep his wife warm in the first place?

In Fatal Justice-Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders, the authors provide a comprehensive and chronological history of the blue pajama top. When the blue pajama top was examined it was found to have 48 puncture holes in it. There were 21 stab wounds discovered in the chest of Colette MacDonald.

In the summer of 1971 the army CID requested the FBI to examine the puncture holes in the pajama top. They wanted to determine in what direction the fibers in each hole were bent from each thrust of the ice pick. They knew that the fibers in a single hole would have to be bent in the same direction.

This task was given to Paul Stombaugh, an assistant supervisor in the scientific laboratory of the FBI. Stombaugh and assistant laboratory technician Shirley Green examined the puncture holes in the blue pajama top under a microscope. The pair determined that some of the puncture holes had been made when the ice pick was thrust through the outside of the pajama top while others were made when the ice pick was thrust through, from inside to outside.

The pajama top was then returned to the army CID to be examined by their own laboratory technician, Janice Glisson. Glisson took the experiment a step further. She attempted to fold the pajama top over the torso of a dummy and align the puncture holes over the stab wounds, (whilst maintaining Stombaugh’s and Green’s findings of directionality). She was tasked to do this by Brian Murtagh (of the Justice Department). But, after days of trial and error, the task proved impossible. When aligned, many of the puncture holes were “in direct opposition to the direction the ice pick went through them.” In simple language, alignment and directionality were incompatible.  It meant the pajama top could not have been folded over Colette MacDonald’s chest the way prosecutors had said it was and shown to the jurors at trial.

Just prior to the Grand Jury hearing of 1974-75, Stombaugh and Green of the FBI tried the folding experiment themselves. They allegedly managed to align the 48 puncture holes over the 21 stab wounds. But, in doing so, the pair ignored their earlier findings (where directionality and alignment proved incompatible) and the Grand Jury panel were not told of these crucial findings, which were at odds – and MacDonald was indicted by the Grand Jury in January 1975 to stand trial for murder.

So, even by the time of the trial four years later, the defense and jurors were still unaware that alignment and directionality were incompatible – since the prosecutors did not disclose the opposing findings of the (FBI and CID). They were told only that the 48 holes were made to align over the 21 wounds. Had the defense and jury been privy to hear this irreconcilable information, the outcome of the trial may have been very different.

Nonetheless, Doctor John Thornton, a forensic scientist (now Emeritus Professor – the highest standing) from the University of Berkeley, California, was retained by trial defense attorney Bernard Segal. Thornton pointed out to the jurors that Stombaugh and Green had failed to account for the number of other ways there might be to fold a garment, so that 48 puncture holes might align over 21 stab wounds. He also pointed out to the jurors that the prosecutors had not accounted for the holes made in Colette’s own pink pajama top, which lay between the blue pajama top and her bare chest. This garment, worn by the murder victim, amounts to a missing piece of a jigsaw. By not accounting for this garment, the experiment, lacks any scientific validity.

In A Wilderness of Error-The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, 2012-2013, author Errol Morris points out that, Shirley Green was just trying to find a way in a hypothetical universe to match up 48 punctures with 21 holes.”

Paul Stombaugh of the FBI was also handed a photograph, taken on the morning of the murders, which showed the pajama top folded across the corpse of Colette MacDonald. He was asked by defense attorney Bernard Segal if he had folded the pajama top the exact same way as it was in the photograph. Stombaugh admitted that, for the experiment he had made some subtle changes in the way it was shown in the photograph. Again, any changes, no matter how miniscule they may seem, destroys any scientific authenticity. One cannot change the evidence to make it fit their purpose.

However, since the prosecution kept these opposing findings and inconsistencies from the defense and denied them access to the FBI and CID reports from the testing of the physical evidence, the jurors accepted the folding experiment as scientific fact. The failure of this experiment due to (alignment and direction incompatibleness), was discovered years after trial, in documents released through the Freedom of Information Act.

If MacDonald was being attacked, as he alleges (this is speculation) then initially he would have been wearing the pajama top. The thrusts of a blade would pass through the outside of the garment. But once it was pulled over his head and entangled about his forearms and wrists, as he alleges, it could be inside-out. This would account for the discovery of the puncture holes entering from the outside, as well as inside to outside. On the other hand, if he killed his wife and had laid the garment over her and stabbed her through it, then the thrusts might, more likely, pass through only one side of the pajama top, (when examined under the microscope, this was proven not to be the case). Therefore, the science points to MacDonald’s version of assailants.

The second issue of contention surrounding the pajama top at trial, was the locations where large amounts of the blue pajama fibers were discovered. A profuse shedding of the fibers was found in the children’s bedrooms and on their beds. According to MacDonald he had removed his pajama top and laid it over his wife before checking on his children. He was now bare-chest. The question arose, as to how the pajama fibers came to be in those locations, unless he was lying. At trial, the defense was at a loss to explain this anomaly.

When MacDonald was asked about this, when interviewed by CID investigators in 1970, six weeks after the murders, he enquired as to whether the fibers could have come from his pajama bottoms. The CID agents did not know, as the bottoms had been discarded carelessly by an orderly working at Womack Army Hospital on the morning of the murders and were never recovered. The orderly had discarded them as they were stained with blood. Several years after the trial a medic working on the morning of the murders came forward to say he had seen the pajama bottoms “ripped from knee to knee through the crotch.” Subsequently, another two medics corroborated his story.

According to Thomas T. Noguchi M.D. in Coroner at Large, 1985, “If the fibers came from the pajama bottoms, then their presence in the children’s rooms was innocently explained.” Noguchi incidentally, was the chief medical examiner for Los Angeles County for many years from the late 1960s until into the 1980s. In the 1980s, some years after MacDonald’s conviction, he was hired by the defense to independently examine the autopsy reports and photographs of the murder victims and the crime scene.

After several months, Noguchi concluded that the evidence pointed to MacDonald’s version of events and the presence of multiple assailants. It was also Noguchi’s appraisal, from examining the autopsy photos and reports, that Colette MacDonald’s fatal injuries (the multiple blows inflicted to her skull and both arms and the stab wounds to her torso) were delivered by a person who was left-handed. Dr. Ronald Wright, of Broward County, Florida also examined the photos and reports and concurred with Dr. Noguchi. Jeffrey MacDonald was right-handed. Gregory Mitchell, one of the associates of Helena Stoeckley and an early suspect in the murders, was left-handed.

The professional appraisal of Noguchi, weighs heavily, or it should. He had overseen thousands of autopsies for Los Angeles County, and many, many of these were murder victims.  It is not conceivable for MacDonald or any person, in a fit of rage, to decide to strike the blows using their non-dominant hand (as the prosecution would ludicrously have us believe).

At trial, the prosecution made headway again, this time over the absence of blue pajama top fibers on the floor, at the west end of the hallway, where MacDonald said he had fallen unconscious after being clubbed by the assailants, and was laying for some time before coming to. The defense had no explanation to give to the jurors. But again, found in documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, years after trial, a handwritten report made by CID agent Robert Shaw early on the murder morning of February 17, 1970 contradicts this lack of finding. He had written, “in the west entrance to the hallway on the floor… near the south wall, just a pile laying there.” By the time the CID laboratory technicians got around to processing the hallway and collecting debris, three days had passed. There were now, no blue pajama fibers on the floor, where Shaw had earlier seen them.

This small piece of physical evidence, discovered ironically by the army CID and seemingly inconsequential, unknown at trial, has largely gone unnoticed. Its importance cannot be overstated. Again, this small document was amongst the boxloads of documents and exhibits which the defense was denied access to – and the jurors never knew of its existence.  Regardless, Shaw’s hand-written note remains a testament to the existence of a pile of blue pajama threads, left where MacDonald said he had lain unconscious (a pile in the exact spot).

I ask the panel-judges of the Fourth Circuit, to consider the following question. If you understand this case (bearing in mind the location of this pile of blue pajama threads), then what do you think the probability is that Jeffrey MacDonald was laying unconscious in this spot? To me, this single-piece of evidence defies all probability that his story is anything other than true.

Yet another issue were the holes in the pajama top. They were found to be mostly small and of a round-shape. The prosecution contended, that the only way to explain this anomaly, was for the pajama top to have been in a stationary position over the victim at the time they were made, and not the result of a frenzied attack by assailants where the pajama top would be in motion. They argued that the holes would be jagged and torn if MacDonald was fending-off thrusts made by an ice pick. To demonstrate their line of argument the two prosecutors re-enacted a mock-fight in open-court in front of the jurors. They slashed away in downward vertical thrusts, to achieve the desired results, and as predicted, the resulting punctures were jagged and torn.

The defense called on their forensic expert, Dr. John Thornton, who informed the court that he had tried the same experiment in his laboratory, under controlled conditions, with opposing results. MacDonald pointed out to his defense counsel, that the assault upon him had not occurred in the manner the prosecutors had demonstrated. A stabbing motion as used by military personnel in combat situations is straight-out or horizontal. MacDonald said he had managed to get to a half-sitting position when the alleged attack occurred. Commentators have since surmised that in this situation his action would have been to raise his arms in the wrapped pajama top as the blade was thrust forward. All the same, the theatrics in open-court (from the mock-fight) had left its mark on the jurors.

The final issue of contention over the blue pajama top concerned the blood stain patterns discovered on the garment. FBI scientific man Paul Stombaugh had concluded the blood stains continued across the rip. This meant Colette’s blood was on the pajama top before it was torn. If this was the case, then it meant MacDonald’s version of being attacked in the living room and having his pajama top ripped, at the time, was a fabrication.

But, Janice Glisson of the army CID laboratory, had been handed the pajama top in 1973 and had reached a different conclusion. She had determined the blood stains on either side of the pajama top did not intersect. This meant that it was ripped before it was covered in blood, lending credence to MacDonald’s version of events. It needs to be restated here, that at trial in 1979, the opposing findings between the (FBI and CID) of the blood stain patterns were not disclosed by the prosecution. Remember again, that all the documents and exhibits that defense attorney Bernard Segal had requested access to since the time of the Grand Jury indictment in 1975, had fallen on deaf-ears and Judge Franklin T. Dupree Jr. had swiftly ruled at trial that he would not allow the defense an opportunity to examine the documents and exhibits in question. By so ruling, the defense and the jurors knew nothing of their existence.

This article is the second part of a 3-part series.

Read Part I  Read Part III


  1. Kelly, John F., and Wearne, Phillip K. Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1998.
  2. Morris, Errol. A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald. New York: Penguin Books, 2012, 2013.
  3. Noguchi, M.D. Thomas T., with Joseph di Mona. Coroner at Large New York: Penguin Books, 1985.
  4. Potter Jerry Allen, and Bost. Fred H. Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1995.


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