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Jeffrey Robert MacDonald Trial: 1979

The Trial, At Last

Bringing the case to court was a laborious process, but in July 1979, 9Vz years after the murders, MacDonald finally faced his accusers in a North Carolina courtroom. He came bearing defense fund contributions from many influential supporters who believed in his innocence.

Defense attorney Bernard Segal was confident when the trial opened, but right from day one things went badly. Judge Franklin Dupree refused to admit into evidence a psychiatric evaluation of MacDonald which suggested that someone of his personality type was most unlikely to have committed violent crimes. Dupree did this for the soundest,, of reasons. If the defense were allowed to present their side of the psychiatric argument, then the prosecution would doubtless counter with experts of their own. Because no plea of insanity had been entered, Dupree didn't want the trial bogged down by a mass of what was likely to be contradictory testimony.

Then Dupree admitted into testimony something that the MacDonald camp very much wanted left out: a copy of Esquire magazine, found in the MacDonald household, containing a lengthy article about the Charles Manson murders. (In 1969, Manson, a commune leader, had ordered his "disciples" on a killing binge that left seven dead in southern California.) This was a big plus for the prosecution. They intended to suggest that reading this article had implanted in MacDonald's mind the idea of blaming a hippie gang for his own murderous activities.

In a sedate North Carolina courtroom, Segal's wide-open style of combative advocacy did not sit well with Judge Dupree. The two locked horns repeatedly, mostly to MacDonald's detriment. But it wasn't just a clash of personalities that hurt the defendant; there was the evidence as well.

FBI analyst Paul Stombaugh led the jury through a clear exposition of the blue pajama jacket and its relevance. He showed how all 48 holes made by the ice pick were smooth and cylindrical. In order for this to have happened the jacket would need to remain stationary, an unlikely occurrence if MacDonald had indeed wrapped the jacket around his hands to defend himself and was dodging a torrent of blows. Also, by folding the jacket in one particular way, Stombaugh demonstrated how all 48 tears could have been made by 21 thrusts of the ice pick, coincidentally the same number of wounds that Colette MacDonald had suffered. By implication, Stombaugh was saying that MacDonald's story was a tissue of lies; what really happened was that Colette MacDonald had been repeatedly stabbed through the pajama jacket by her enraged husband, who then concocted the story of four intruders to mask his actions.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Jeffrey Robert MacDonald Trial: 1979 - The Trial, At Last, Drama In Court, Murderer Sues Writer