RALEIGH, N.C. — Jeffrey MacDonald, a clean-cut Green Beret and doctor convicted of killing of his pregnant wife and their two daughters, is getting another chance to try proving his innocence — more than four decades after the nation was gripped by his tales of Charles Manson-like hippies doped up on acid slaughtering his family.
The case now hinges on something that wasn't available when he was first put on trial: DNA evidence. A federal judge planned to hold a hearing Monday to consider new DNA evidence and witness testimony that MacDonald and his supporters say will finally clear him of a crime that became the basis of Joe McGinniss' best-selling book "Fatal Vision" and a made-for-TV drama.
It's the latest twist in a case that has been the subject of military and civilian courts, intense legal wrangling and shifting alliances.
"This is Jeff's opportunity to be back in court almost 33 years to the day of his conviction," said Kathryn MacDonald, who married him a decade ago though he has been in prison.
MacDonald, now 68 and not eligible for parole until 2020, has never wavered from his claim that he didn't kill his pregnant wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5-year-old Kimberley and 2-year-old Kristen. He has maintained that he awoke on their sofa in their home at Fort Bragg in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970, as they were being attacked by three men and a woman.
In an October 2000 letter MacDonald wrote to Kathryn MacDonald, provided by her to The Associated Press, he wrote: "It would be a dishonor to their memory to compromise the truth and 'admit' to something I didn't do — no matter how long it takes."
The gruesome stabbing and beating deaths came just three months after the Manson Family slayings in California were revealed. The pregnant wife and MacDonald's description of the woman attacker chanting "acid is groovy, kill the pigs" all fed into fears that Manson-type killers were on the loose in North Carolina. The word "pig" was written in blood on a headboard — the same word that was written on the door of pregnant Manson victim Sharon Tate's house in Los Angeles.