Former Army captain and ex-surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald — who is serving three life sentences for the high-profile slaying of his pregnant wife and two young daughters more than 50 years ago — is once again seeking his freedom.
MacDonald, whose story was told in the bestselling true-crime book “Fatal Vision” by late journalist Joe McGinniss, has a hearing Thursday afternoon in the Eastern District of North Carolina to determine whether his motion for compassionate release will be granted.
Chief Judge Terrence Boyle is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides but MacDonald, 77, will not be in court. It’s unclear when the judge will issue his decision.
The case attracted international attention for its shocking brutality. MacDonald slaughtered his wife, Kimberly, and their two daughters, 5-year-old Colette and 2-year-old Kristen, on Feb. 17, 1970, in their Fort Bragg home.
After an argument, MacDonald used a three-foot-long wooden club to batter Kimberly, who was five months pregnant. At some point, possibly awoken by the fight, Colette entered her parents’ room.
“He used the same club to bludgeon Colette repeatedly, breaking both her arms as she fought to defend herself,” wrote Assistant US Attorney John Harris in a motion opposing his release.
After realizing he’d likely killed his daughter, he transitioned to cover-up mode to save himself — by ensuring each member of his family was dead then claiming that hippies chanting “acid is groovy, kill the pigs” were the real perpetrators, the prosecutor said.
“He stabbed Colette, Kimberly, and little Kristen over and over again with a paring knife — and Colette and Kristen yet again with an ice pick — all in an effort to support his cover story of a ritualistic killing by a group of home-invading hippies,” wrote Harris.
MacDonald’s fanciful story mirrored the Manson Family murders.
After a six-week trial, MacDonald was found guilty in 1979 and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
He has consistently proclaimed his innocence — and, before the trial, invited McGinniss to collaborate on a book that he thought would support his position.
But the plan backfired spectacularly after McGinniss became convinced of MacDonald’s guilt and wrote a scathing 976-page tome arguing that the ex-Green Beret was a “narcissistic sociopath” who barbarically murdered his family in an amphetamine-induced rage.
Published in 1983, the bestselling book inspired a TV series and prompted MacDonald to sue McGinniss, whose publisher eventually settled out of court.
MacDonald applied for parole in 2005, which was denied.
After exhausting all his appeals, he applied for compassionate release in November of 2020 on the grounds that he could suffer severe illness or death as a result of contracting COVID-19. Earlier that same year, he had waived his right to two parole hearings, according to court papers.
“Dr. MacDonald’s underlying medical conditions … constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons for a prison reduction,” wrote his lawyer Hart Miles in the motion.
On Jan. 11, MacDonald tested positive for the virus without experiencing any symptoms and called the results a false positive.
On March 3, he refused the Moderna vaccine — although he suffers from chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure and a history of skin cancer, prosecutors said.
“To the extent that any risk remains, he has voluntarily assumed it by rejecting the risk-mitigating measures offered to him,” wrote Harris. “He cannot reasonably expect that prolonging his risk by declining vaccination will be rewarded with a sentence reduction.”
The horrific nature of the crime also does not support release, wrote the prosecutor, who hammered home the point by including gruesome crime scene photos of MacDonald’s slain little girls and wife.
“To release him would undermine the seriousness of his crimes,” wrote Harris. “That is especially true when the victims were innocent children — his own children — and he has never accepted responsibility or shown remorse for his actions.”