Misti C. Lee
-- Nearly 30 years after his pregnant wife and two children were
brutally killed in their Fort Bragg home, Jeffrey MacDonald, who
was convicted of the murders, is hanging hopes of freedom on new
District Judge James Fox of Wilmington on Tuesday granted a request
by MacDonald's lawyers that at least 18 items of evidence, including
13 vials of blood and hair - some of it scraped from under the victims'
fingernails - be tested for DNA evidence in an independent laboratory.
The attorneys, led by Barry Scheck, who helped win an acquittal
in O.J. Simpson's murder trial, hope the testing will turn up evidence
that could rule out MacDonald as the killer.
55, a former Green Beret doctor, has maintained he is innocent of
killing his pregnant wife, Colette, and daughters, Kimberly and
Kristen, in February 1970 at their Fort Bragg home. MacDonald told
investigators he was awakened in his living room by a group of drug-crazed
hippies chanting, "Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs," who
attacked him and his family. He was tried in Raleigh in 1979.
said MacDonald murdered his wife in a rage and then killed his daughters
to cover it up. They said he based the story of the intruders on
the Manson murders.
lost an appeal for a new trial in 1997, but was granted a request
to do DNA testing, which was not available at the time of his trial.
see what happens," Boston lawyer Andrew Good said after the
hearing. "One step at the time. We don't know if it's the last
ditch or not. All we're going to do is use the science to see what
we can find out."
Tuesday's ruling, both sides were given 14 days to agree on a lab
to do the testing. Both sides will be represented during the testing.
But the judge stopped short of granting the defense's request for
a "special master" to oversee the case.
evidence may be limited. Prosecutor Brian Murtagh, the special U.S.
attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina who prosecuted
the case and is now a deputy chief in the terrorist and violent
crime section with the Department of Justice, said that hairs still
remain for sampling, but that blood samples taken during an autopsy
for comparison purposes have been used up.
cases, the samples are so small that they would be used up by the
new testing, which could lead to additional hearings on the matter.
limited by the amount of evidence that was saved, and unfortunately
it seems there's not a lot, so we'll do the best with what we can,"
the testing, strands of hair would be subjected to a sonogram-type
sound vibration that would clear the hair of any saliva or encrusted
blood or other debris.
DNA testing, which has been used to identify the remains of missing
servicemen and Czar Nicholas II's family in Russia, could be helpful
in finding a new suspect in the murders on a new national DNA database
of convicted felons, Scheck said.
results "could come back to some killer or serial killer or
could return to some unsolved murder that occurred while Mr. MacDonald
was in jail," Scheck said.
found in a bedroom of the MacDonald home has not been previously
tested, Murtagh said. The hair was found on top of a bloodstained
bed. Tests found the blood was of the same type as MacDonald and
defense attorneys are hopeful.
is serving three life sentences in a federal prison in Sheridan,
Ore. In a telephone interview from prison Tuesday with The Associated
Press, he said the hearing was an attempt to force the government
to produce the exhibits for testing.
government's case is predicated on there's no evidence of the presence
of outside assailants," MacDonald said. "There were other
people in the apartment that night murdering my family."
team is especially eager to test hair he said was found in his wife's
hand, MacDonald said.
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