WILMINGTON – The author who wrote the book “Fatal Vision” about the murders of the pregnant wife and two daughters of Jeffrey MacDonald testified Friday that a defense attorney lied when he told the judge at the former Green Beret doctor’s murder trial that a woman had implicated herself in the killings.
Author Joe McGinniss testified that attorney Bernie Segal lied in 1979 when he told the judge that Helena Stoeckley told defense attorneys that she was in the MacDonald apartment on Fort Bragg on Feb. 17, 1970, when the family was killed.
“(Segal) was lying. I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but he stood there right in front of the judge making this stuff up,” McGinniss said. “If Stoeckley had confessed during the defense interview there would have been jubilation in that room. There would have been high fives. Champagne corks would have been popped. And that didn’t happen.”
MacDonald, 68, has always said four intruders broke into the apartment, killing his pregnant wife, Colette, and daughters, 5-year-old Kimberley and 2-year-old Kristen. One was a woman wearing a blonde wig and a floppy hat who chanted “acid is groovy, kill the pigs.”
The hearing in U.S. District Court in Wilmington could determine if MacDonald gets a new trial on new evidence. He said that jurors wouldn’t have found him guilty if they knew about the new evidence.
It includes DNA results showing that three hairs didn’t belong to anyone in the family and a statement from a former deputy U.S. marshal that a prosecutor threatened to charge Stoeckley if she testified that she was in the apartment.
Both Stoeckley and that deputy marshal, Jimmy Britt, have since died.
McGinniss testified that he had access to all aspects of the defense after he agreed to write a book about the case. That book, “Fatal Vision,” became a bestseller when it was published four years after MacDonald was convicted.
In the book, McGinniss surmises MacDonald could have been high on amphetamine when he became enraged and bludgeoned and stabbed his family.
MacDonald, who thought McGinniss would write about his innocence, sued the author. The lawsuit ended with an out-of-court settlement of $325,000, of which a portion went to MacDonald.
The StarNews of Wilmington reported that McGinniss said Segal wanted him in the room when defense attorneys interviewed Stoeckley because they hoped she would confess.
Instead, Stoeckley repeatedly denied being in the house, McGinniss said.
After the interview, both sides met for a bench conference before Judge Franklin Dupree, McGinniss said, but he couldn’t hear what was said.
Prosecutor John Bruce then had McGinniss read a portion of the transcript from that conference. In it, Segal, who died last year, tells Dupree that Stoeckley made statements during the interview implicating herself.
On cross-examination by defense attorney Keith Williams, McGinniss said he became convinced of MacDonald’s guilt at the end of the 1979 trial. Despite that, he encouraged MacDonald to continue with the interviews by sending him supportive letters in prison.
McGinniss said he did that because he was torn by the “genuine affection” he’d developed for MacDonald and the facts of the case.
“The guy was wonderful. He was charming,” he said. “It was a tough fight between my head and my heart for a long time.”