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Jamaica army officer maintains innocence in ‘70 triple murder

TimesLedger Newspapers

Jeffrey Robert MacDonald, a former U.S. Army doctor, is best known for allegedly murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters in 1970.

He was born Oct. 12, 1943, in Jamaica. He married his wife, the former Collette Stevenson, while an undergraduate at Princeton University, and later completed his medical studies at Northwestern University before joining the Army in 1969.

MacDonald’s murder case has been in the military and civilian courts since months after the murder, and he has been imprisoned continuously since 1982. Maintaining his innocence, in September 2012 a new court hearing considered DNA evidence unavailable to the defense at the time of the killings.

His family moved to Patchogue, L.I., when Jeffrey was a boy. The future doctor and soldier was the senior class president and voted Most Popular and Most Likely to Succeed in the class of 1961. After earning a scholarship to Princeton, he resumed a relationship with his future wife Collette, whom he began dating in high school.

Expecting their first child, the couple married in 1964. Collette settled down as a housewife while the new father continued his studies. After completing his medical internship at Columbia Presbyterian in Manhattan, MacDonald joined the Army as a surgeon with the 6th Special Forces Group. Capt. MacDonald and his bride and daughters Kimberley and Kristen moved to Fort Bragg, N.C.

In the early morning of Feb. 17, 1970, military police officers responded to an emergency telephone call from MacDonald’s home. Upon arrival, they found Collette and her daughters murdered. MacDonald lay wounded but was released from the hospital within a week, claiming a group of drug-addled hippies attacked him and his family, with a woman holding a candle and chanting, “Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs.”

But fibers from MacDonald’s pajamas were discovered under daughter Kristen’s fingernails, and the murder weapons, all articles from their home, were found outside. When confronted with evidence of his extramarital affairs, he responded, “Oh ... you guys are more thorough than I thought.”

Although the doctor’s defense attorney claimed to have located the woman holding the candle and chanting in his house, and witnesses claimed she had admitted involvement in the murders, in May the Army charged the captain with the killings.

Following one of the longest Article 32 hearings in Army history, the military decided the charges against the doctor were not true and recommended dismissal. MacDonald was dishonorably discharged from the Army and went into civilian medical practice, eventually settling in California.

His legal troubles, however, were just beginning. Initially among his supporters, Collette’s stepparents, Alfred and Mildred Kassab, decided to submit a criminal complaint after seeing the young doctor joking about the case on “The Dick Cavett Show.”

MacDonald’s case has been in civilian courts for nearly 40 years, going as far as the U.S. Supreme Court four times between 1978 and 1992. Each time, justices rejected MacDonald’s various arguments that he was facing double jeopardy or was denied his right to a speedy trial.

He was briefly freed in 1980 from imprisonment for murder after an appeals court ruled he had not received a speedy trial. The Supreme Court overruled the decision and the ex-doctor was returned to prison one final time in 1982 to serve three consecutive life sentences for each victim.

In 1997, defense lawyers were granted the right to obtain DNA tests of hair and blood samples from the murder scene. Some of the results, released in 2006, did not match the profile of any family member. Based upon the new evidence, a federal judge will decide in late 2012 whether to overturn MacDonald’s conviction.

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