Jeffrey MacDonald Seeks New Trial in Triple Murder

Forty years have passed since one of the most infamous and grisliest crimes in American history.

Jeffrey MacDonald's young wife, Colette, and their daughters were brutally bludgeoned and stabbed to death in their home in Fort Bragg, N.C., in what seemed like a pointless and murderous fury. Then 26-year-old MacDonald was left alive.

MacDonald, a Green Beret, a graduate of Princeton University, and a respected doctor, told investigators that he had been sleeping on the couch when he heard his wife and children calling for help and awoke to find three male intruders and a mysterious woman in a floppy hat and boots chanting, "acid is groovy, kill the pigs."

Retrial in Fatal Vision Murders?
Retrial in Jeffrey MacDonald Case?

He said was attacked, defended himself, blacked out and awoke to the horror of his blood-covered wife and children.

The murders came just months after Charles Manson's drug-addled "family" slaughtered actress Sharon Tate and others in California. Just as Manson's family wrote "Helter Skelter" and "pig" in their victims' blood, "pig" was written in blood in the MacDonald home.

But to Army investigators and then later to federal prosecutors, it was all wrong. The crime scene seemed staged and hardly anything was damaged after a supposedly ferocious, Manson-style home invasion.

Most damningly, the blood and fiber evidence told a tale that convinced prosecutors and ultimately 12 jurors that MacDonald had made up his story and had slaughtered his own family.

The savage killings became known as the "Fatal Vision" case, after a best-selling book and TV miniseries. After an explosive trial in 1979, MacDonald was found guilty and sentenced the three life sentences for the murders.

But MacDonald never accepted the guilty verdicts. Now 66, he is an inmate in a federal prison in Maryland and his case is back in court, before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

MacDonald's wife of nine years, Kathryn MacDonald, has hope.

"I know this case backwards and forwards and I know this man that I love. But, I knew it before I loved him," said Kathryn MacDonald, who married Jeffrey MacDonald in federal prison in 2002, just five years after she wrote to him about his case. "I just want him to come home now. He deserves to be home."

Kathy MacDonald, who runs a children's theater program outside Baltimore, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the facts and law of the MacDonald murder case. She told "Nightline" they've put their entire life savings into the appeals.

"I don't think that our system is set up for the average person, citizen like myself. I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a doctor, and you go through everything you have. And Jeff went through everything he had," she said. "I don't think that there's any price you can put on justice, don't get me wrong."

New Questions About MacDonald Case

MacDonald's lawyers argue he deserves a new trial based primarily on statements made by people tied to the case that had not previously been heard and new DNA findings.

Two key pieces of evidence that the defense said they would like to have examined in the appeal relate to Helena Stoeckley, a self confessed drug addict, who came forward after the murders and claimed to investigators she may have been involved and was the woman MacDonald had seen in his house.

Stoeckley's story changed over the years and when she was called to testify at MacDonald's trial, she denied she had any memory of the four-hour period during which the murders took place.

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