Thirty three years later – revisiting the MacDonald case

Thirty three years later
Revisiting the MacDonald case
 
                I had always wondered how it would be when I saw him again. Before Wednesday, September 19, 2012, the last time I saw Jeffrey MacDonald was when he was wearing a three piece suit and being walked away by United States Marshalls through a door he had never gone through before. He was beginning the first day of the most severe sentence Judge Dupree could give…three consecutive life sentences.
 
                Shortly before two o’clock, I walked through a large wooden door opened for me by the United States Attorney’s witness coordinator and then through a maze of walkways that led ultimately to a raised witness chair just to the left of the judge’s bench. I looked out at a full courtroom of spectators, both for and against MacDonald, as well as the news media from as far away as Los Angeles.
 
                The Assistant United States Attorney, John Bruce, began asking me direct questions. Looking at him, I saw a familiar face, that of my friend and colleague from that trial, Brian Murtagh. Brian has spent most of his adult life at the United States Justice Department involved in some way with the MacDonald prosecution and its aftermath, though he also worked heavily and so importantly on the Pan Am 103 plane tragedy that ended over Lockerbie, Scotland.
 
                But seeing Brian made me relax. I went through dozens of questions on the allegations that I had threatened Helena Stoeckley with murder prosecution after she had allegedly said to me that she was present the night of the murders. That part of my testimony was easy for telling the truth is hard to mess up, as Joe McGinniss said to me in an email shortly before I testified that day. I just told the court and anyone else who was listening that those allegations of wrong doing were not true.
 
                Of course before my direct testimony was over, John Bruce went through my legal difficulties of almost twenty years ago, when my then world crumbled. 
 
                At the break, about an hour or so later, I walked over to the defense table to greet the two lawyers for MacDonald. I knew one of them who shook my hand and said he would be glad when the afternoon was over. That should have been my warning.
 
                For about an hour or ago, the clock went back, not to the MacDonald trial, but to my own failings and mistakes as a lawyer. I will not tell you it was easy for it was not. But the lessons I learned from that time stood me in good stead yet again, when I tried as best I could to embrace my mistakes and own them. I think that is the only thing I could do. It was the only way out.
 
                Just ten minutes before court adjourned for the day, at 4:20 p.m., I heard what must be the sweetest words to any witness…” I have no further questions.” And I was free to go.
 
                During my testimony that day, I looked over at Jeffrey MacDonald and felt…nothing. He was there, sitting somewhat impassively as I spoke. We never acknowledged each other. 
 
                Walking out of the courtroom, I knew that regardless of the judge’s decision, which is not likely to come for several months, I was in the early stages of being free of this case. 
 
                At this point, I can only say that I have done my best. I have told the truth, and I have faced those who wanted to challenge me on this. It would have been so much tougher without the support and friendship of lots of people, many of whom called and sent emails and texts and spoke to me when they saw me. To each one of you, I can only say thanks!
 
               
 
 
 
 
              
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