Old friends in Wilmington – the MacDonald hearing in Federal Court


Old Friends in Wilmington
The MacDonald Hearing in Federal Court
                I first met Brian Murtagh in the fall of 1977 when he came to Raleigh and met me at the United States Attorney’s office. Brian had initially been in the military when he secured a position in the Criminal Division of the United States Justice Department. He was assigned as a staff attorney to Victor Woerhide who was gearing up for a federal Grand Jury investigation into the MacDonald murders. Then after MacDonald was indicted in early 1975 and the government had appealed the Fourth Circuit’s dismissal of the case on speedy trial claims to the United States Supreme Court, Mr. Woerhide died from a heart attack.
                The MacDonald case had lost its main prosecutor, and the case was in the appellate courts. Brian though stayed with it and never left. And so in 1977 when I had just joined the federal prosecutor’s office, we met and instantly knew we would work well together. It was Brian who went with me first to the MacDonald apartment at 544 Castle Drive, and it was Brian who sat beside me and worked as a full partner in the 1979 trial. Without his efforts, I don’t think the government would ever have secured a conviction. He was that good and that prepared.
                After the trial and the appeals and motions began, Brian continued to stay with the case, working just as hard to make sure the convictions remained in place as he did initially. It is now thirty three years since the trial, and I saw Brian for the first time in many years in Wilmington in September at the Hearing in federal court. It was as though we had never stopped working on the case. He could mention a name or a piece of evidence, and I knew what he meant. And he knows it all.
                Brian is such an honorable man and lawyer. I have never forgotten that the day before the trial started, he asked me if he could be the one to stand up and tell the Court that the government was ready for trial. He said if he could do that, then he thought he had done his job. He could not control what a jury might do, but he could get the case ready to be considered by them.
                Brian has spent his entire legal career in the Justice Department, working on big things. It hasn’t been just the MacDonald case but also Pan Am plane crash over Lockerbie, Scotland as one case in point.
                So every cloud has a silver lining, and for me, the best thing about this entire Hearing process was the chance to see Brian again. Gene Weingarten, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and a columnist for the Washington Post is preparing a profile of Brian to run soon in the Washington Post Sunday magazine.
                Then there was Bill Ivory, the main case agent for the Army’s C.I.D. or Criminal Investigative Division.   Another hour and a half and he would have been off duty and never involved in this case at all. But he was still there and one of the first to go to the scene and handle the removal of the bodies and the crime scene investigation. He, like all of us are older and he can’t hear as well due to the sound of guns in Vietnam, but he is plenty sharp, and he was there in Wilmington to once again walk people through the destruction of that night.
                Bill is a member of the C.I.D.’s Hall of Fame, and his expertise is legendary. You cannot speak or write about this case without him being there in the conversation.
                There were many others in Wilmington during this Hearing that were present in Raleigh at the 1979 trial, but these two stand out to me, not only for what they contributed to this case, but for their incredible professionalism in the most difficult of circumstances. It was a real honor to meet them, to work with them and to see them yet again.

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