Where would the publishing world be…

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Where would the publishing world be…

...without Jeffrey MacDonald, the Queens born graduate of Patchogue High and Princeton University, and later a 6th Special Forces Group Surgeon convicted of annihilating his family while posted to Fort Bragg in February 1970?

One of the OtBB faithful recently brought up the name in conjunction with today's publication of "A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald" by Academy Award-winning documentary film-maker Errol Morris.

In poking around about the odd MacDonald case... he was exonerated by the U.S. Army after a lengthy Article 32 hearing and, following a Grand Jury indictment in North Carolina in 1975, not tried in a civilian court until July 1979.

By then, his murdered wife's father who had always cham­pioned his son-in-law's cause, had turned against him, and a month later after delibrating a little more than six hours the jury convicted MacDonald of one count of first-degree murder of wife Kristen and two counts of second-degree murder of daughters Colette and Kimberley.

And that was just the end of Act II. Just before his trial be­gan, a confident MacDonald had asked journalist Joe McGinniss to write a book about the case, and was afforded "full access."

Four years later "Fatal Vision" hit the bookshelves, the best-seller list and MacDonald square in the solar plexis, as McGinniss concluded that the former Green Beret doctor was, in fact, guilty of the murders of his wife and daughters.

(The next year it became a two-part TV mini-series which, it is perhaps instructive to note, has never been released on DVD.)

MacDonald, who felt betrayed by the writer, sued McGinniss for fraud and misrepresentation and after one mistrial, in November 1987, McGinniss and MacDonald settled out of court for $325,000 which was split between the incarcer­ated plaintiff and his attorneys.

Then came "Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders," a 1997 book co-written by novelist Jerry Allen Potter and investigative journalist Fred Bost who had spent a decade conducting interviews and reading previously un­seen case files released through the Freedom of Informa­tion Act. Their brief was that MacDonald's trial was unfair and biased against the defense, introducing evidence they claimed had been concealed by government prosecutors.

Next, Janet Malcolm turned a two-part 1989 New Yorker article into a book, "The Journalist and the Murderer," which used the 1987 McGinniss-MacDonald trial to explore the problematic relationship between journalists and their subjects.

(Her book so incensed McGinniss that he devoted an "Epilogue" in new editions of "Fatal Vision" to savaging Malcolm.)

In 2007, prison groupie Christina Masewicz, whose support for MacDonald swung 180° after she learned that he had married another while incarcerated, self-published the exe­crably-written and edited "Scales of Justice: The Murders of Colette, Kimberley & Kristen MacDonald;" it is more about her particular pathology than his.

Comes today publication of the Morris book, and my sole in­terest is why he chose this medium instead of the docu­mentary film genre on which he has built his reputation.

MacDonald? I hold no more opinion about the man now than I did 42 years ago... wasn't there, haven't followed the case, can't get interested one way or the other.

But... I am reminded of another doctor, osteopath Sam Sheppard, convicted of spousal murder in a recklessly media-driven 1954 case.

Within a month, Sheppard's mother Ethel committed suicide and his doctor father Richard died of cancer.

In 1965 U.S. District Judge Carl A. Weinman tossed out Sheppard's conviction on constitutional grounds, calling his trial "a mockery of justice." After several appeals by the State of Ohio, in November 1966 Sheppard won an acquittal in a retrial.

Four years later Sam Sheppard, as much of a free man as an alcoholic can be, died of liver failure, age 46, never fully-exonerated by the criminal justice system.

Errol Morris' 1988 documentary "The Thin Blue Line" freed Randall Dale Adams after more than a dozen years on Texas' Death Row.

It will be interesting to learn what sort of legal action on MacDonald's behalf may be taken as a result of today's publication.


1. Hampton West said...

I remember watching MacDonald on Dick Cavitt's show probably a few months after the murders - not sure - even then I was astounded by now aloof and detached he seemed, he was even telling jokes about the military investigators. I remember thinking the guy seems to be wacky.

Judge Joseph Force Crater, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., Amelia Earhart, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Jimmy Hoffa... not sure that the Jeffrey MacDonald case rises to any one of those levels.

2. Tara Patricia said...

I always believed in his innocence. Christina Masewicz is a "fame whore" who hates the fact Dr. MacDonald married a younger, prettier woman. Bob Stevenson is fool to associate with such a woman – who puts graphic crime scene photos of the victims but acts like she cares about them.

Thank you for sharing your beliefs and views. I don't know what else to say to you.

3. Laurence Smith said...

  1. Mr. Morris's book is superficial and ignores the important details while trying make mileage out of irrelevant details.
  2. Christina's coverage of this case cannot be impuned by anyone. She is one author who came to realize that MacDonald was a sociopath after originally supporting him briefly.
  3. Mr. Norris's book only takes irrelevant details and tries to make them relevant. He skims over the real details of the case that got MacDonald convicted. Read his book only if it is free and even then think about time you would be wasting.
  1. In your (somewhat envious) opinion.
  2. Yes it can... I just did. Plus you neglect to mention that Joe McGinniss... who is at least a writer... started out the same way!
  3. Now you're repeating yourself!

4. Kathryn MacDonald said...

Hello -

I came across this site and wondered if anyone is still commenting on my husband's case given new developments this month (January 2015) – if anyone is interested please contact me via our website or check out the info there.

Thank you very much.
Sincerely, Kathryn MacDonald (Jeff MacDonald's wife)

No, Kathryn, no one's commenting on [your] husband's case... do you see anyone here commenting?

No? Well, there's your answer!

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