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regi

Errol Morris questions MacDonald conviction

49 posts in this topic

I wasn't asking the question because I thought it would actually happen...I was pointing out the process of the law as I understand it to be.

Personally, I don't believe MacDonald has a snowball's chance in hell of ever getting out of prison, and the reason I believe that is because of the overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

If his conviction is vacated, I don't think for a split second that the prosecution wouldn't try him again. I was just pointing out that the choice is there.

Obviously, I'm a total layman re: the law and what happened was that in looking over the latest in the case, the word "vacate" jumped out at me, and I thought that word meant an end to the case- as in "exonerate"...so, I thought MacDonald was actually asking for one of two things to happen- either a new trial, or an "exoneration".

I now know the word is a formality in the process...I mean, the conviction has to be "vacated" before anything else could happen in his favor.

I've learned that the judge's decision can be appealed, but surely, I would think that would be the last chance.

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The prosecution would have a choice though, right? Isn't it possible that the if the conviction is vacated that the prosecution could decide not to pursue the case?

It depends. That's usually not the case when the prosecution has already won a case and it's been vacated on appeal. That's more likely when it's a hung jury or something similar.

When the appeal hinges on the fact that there is evidence that was not heard, the judge is most likely going to vacate and remand which means he is going to vacate the prior ruling and send the case back down to be reheard with the missing evidence. It's pretty much an order that there be a new trial. In fact, in this case, it would be to MacDonald's benefit to have a new trial because he wants to be exonerated and if he gets off without his side of the story being told, it just won't happen. Not only that, but he's lost his license to practice medicine. He's not going to get that back without a not-guilty ruling.

And then there's this little fun bit of trivia. He committed these crimes on base, as a Green Beret. He can be tried again in Military court. Doing so does not violate Double Jeopardy and military standards are different than civilian burdens of proof (looser). This is one reason to pooh pooh the conspiracy theory that the military was working against him. It would have been much easier and much cleaner to try him in a military court if the military wanted to frame him and set him up. It would have been much easier to do so without bringing in any outsiders and it would have been entirely within the realm of the law to do so.

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It depends. That's usually not the case when the prosecution has already won a case and it's been vacated on appeal. That's more likely when it's a hung jury or something similar.

When the appeal hinges on the fact that there is evidence that was not heard, the judge is most likely going to vacate and remand which means he is going to vacate the prior ruling and send the case back down to be reheard with the missing evidence. It's pretty much an order that there be a new trial. In fact, in this case, it would be to MacDonald's benefit to have a new trial because he wants to be exonerated and if he gets off without his side of the story being told, it just won't happen. Not only that, but he's lost his license to practice medicine. He's not going to get that back without a not-guilty ruling.

Well, theoretically, if the prosecution decides not to pursue a case in which a conviction was vacated, then wouldn't that be the best scenario for the defendant...because the conviction stands as vacated?

Edited by regi

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Well, theoretically, if the prosecution decides not to pursue a case in which a conviction was vacated, then wouldn't that be the best scenario for the defendant...because the conviction stands as vacated?

It depends. If the Defendant thinks he really has a chance to be found innocent and get his life back, then a vacated conviction isn't much good at all. He's still labeled and he can still be re-tried at any time. In essence, he's still at the beck and call of the court. In a case like this, the military can try him anyway if he were to go free on a technicality.

But, it just wouldn't happen in a case like this anyway. The case would be vacated and remanded or, more likely, the appeal may be heard and the prior rulings upheld.

Appellate courts don't actually hear a case all over again. They simply read the record and hear oral arguments from attorneys and make a decision based on that. There is no problem with absent witnesses, old evidence, or anything like that because they are simply reading the transcript of the court and any briefs that may be submitted. In this case, what the court will try to do is determine if the evidence was improperly excluded and, if it was, if that evidence would have likely made a difference in the outcome of the original trial. There is a "no harm no foul" rule that states that even if something minor was done wrong, if that would not have effected the outcome, a ruling won't be overturned on it. If they do decide that evidence should have been included and that it might have changed the outcome, then they will vacate and remand the case back to the lower courts. The Prosecution already had enough evidence to go to trial once. Even if their old witnesses have passed on, the Rules of Evidence will allow them to use their testimony from the earlier case in most instances.

The problem comes when prosecutorial evidence has been excluded on appeal. If, because of that exclusion, the Prosecutor no longer has the evidence necessary to bring the defendant to trial, then he simply can't do so.

In this case, the new evidence is that Stoekley told some people one thing and the Jury another thing. She was a drug addict and she couldn't keep her story straight before, during, or after the trial. My guess is that the jury simply disregarded what she said. As soon as she said that she wasn't there, MacDonald's attorney could have sought permission to treat her as a hostile witness and probably even brought up the fact that she said she had been there. I imagine the court would conclude that, yeah, it should have been brought to like, but it didn't really make a difference and so no new trial.

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The new evidence is the three unidentified hairs.

"Both sides agreed that the three 'unsourced hairs' did not belong to anyone in the home..."

The prosecution said those DNA results also excluded Stoeckley and her boyfriend.

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I must have missed that part of it. Same reasoning applies, however. No evidence is being excluded from consideration; three pieces of hairs will be included. Without looking at the entire record as the Court will do, I can't say for sure what any decision will be.

Logically speaking, however, three 'unsourced hairs' in a home where people presumably visited, where people who presumably went out to visit numerous other people, and one of the residents was admittedly having an affair with another woman isn't actually unusual. What would be unusual would be to find only three hairs in a violent scene where a man trained in combat supposedly fought three other men. It just doesn't seem conclusive enough to warrant another trial, though maybe a hearing to weigh that evidence against the rest of the evidence to be sure of that face. It is certainly not compelling enough to set MacDonald free without a trial.

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The new evidence is the three unidentified hairs.

"Both sides agreed that the three 'unsourced hairs' did not belong to anyone in the home..."

The prosecution said those DNA results also excluded Stoeckley and her boyfriend.

You got a source on this, regi?

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I linked the article reporting on the evidentiary hearing on page one, post #14.

I stand corrected...I didn't think anything re: Stoeckley could be new, but I see there was a sworn statement re: a Stoeckley "confession" which the defense also presented as new at the hearing.

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Both sides agreed that the 3 hairs didn't belong to anyone in the family based on 2006 DNA tests.

That's a pretty fine piece of evidence to base an appeal on I would think.

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I think the problem the defense has here is that their own new evidence- those unidentified hairs- contradicts their other new evidence- the Stoeckley confession.

If it was supportive evidence, that would be VERY different, but rather than support the confession, it actually undermines it.

Desperate indeed.

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Both sides agreed that the 3 hairs didn't belong to anyone in the family based on 2006 DNA tests.

That's a pretty fine piece of evidence to base an appeal on I would think.

Maybe, but it's not like there's a barrier that stops every hair but family members' hair from entering a house. That's why it has to be weighed against the rest of the evidence in the case.

For instance: I go out to a bar and see my friend, John, who I haven't seen in a long time. I give him a hug. A few of my hairs fall onto his shirt. Not long after, he puts on his coat and goes home where he takes off his clothes and goes to bed. The hairs fall off and that night he's brutally murdered. There are my random hairs on his floor in the middle of the crime scene, they don't belong to his family or him, they don't belong to any of the killers, but they're there. Oddly enough, if John and I haven't talked in a long time and we only had a brief encounter, it's unlikely that I'll be matched up with the hairs. Do they give reasonable doubt? Maybe. It depends on the rest of the case the lawyers have built.

We don't know if these hairs are long, short, male or female which could say a lot about where they may have come from. They could belong to MacDonald's Mistress and they stuck to his coat or his pants. The Justices have all of that information and will fit it into the case that was presented.

The thing about the contradiction of evidence, however...

Lawyers can offer up different scenarios. It's called pleading in the alternative. So the defense attorney can say, "Look, we have Stoeckley confessing that she did it. And if you don't believe her, we have evidence of a different person that could have committed it."

Edited to add:

Also, remember that getting an appeal is not the same as getting a new trial. An appeal is heard to determine if he will get a new trial or not and the standards are quite lower for an appeal than they are for a new trial. I'm not disputing the fact that the court may hear an appeal. I do doubt, however, that the court will reverse the decision or order a new trial based on the new evidence.

Edited by shrewgoddess

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Gee. It appears I was mistaken about when we could expect the judge's decision. I'd figured December, and I thought that was an outside estimate!

Joe McGinniss explains in an article titled Court Cases That Last Longer Than Some Lives, published in the NY Times October 6, 2012.

"At the closing of the proceedings in Wilmington, the presiding judge, James C. Fox, of the Eastern District of North Carolina, told both sides they could file written briefs following receipt of the transcript. It is estimated that it will take the court reporter at least 60 days to transcribe the six full days of testimony and arguments.

Upon receipt of the transcript, the defense will have 60 days to submit a final written brief.

Upon receipt of the defense brief, the prosecution will have 60 additional days to respond.

Do the math: 60 + 60 + 60 = 180. That means that it will be six months before Judge Fox can even begin to shape his opinion."

Well, I knew better than to hold my breath, but good grief...

I can't link directly to the article, but it'll be the first item if one googles "court cases that drag on forever".

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We are promised justice in this country. Nothing was ever said on how long delivery might take.

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Nothing was ever said on how long delivery might take.

It was in this case and that was the point of my post. With 60 days here, and 60 days there, and so on...we're given a good idea of how long this could possibly take.

I don't know what your opinion is about that, but mine is that it's certainly not how I'd like to see the system proceed.

In this case, and since I think MacDonald is guilty, I sympathize with the family of the victims.

And turn it around, if MacDonald were innocent, then not only would he (and both families) have already suffered a gross injustice with a wrongful conviction, but injustice would continue because it would be more confinement for an innocent man, while the actual perp remained unaccountable.

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June huh? Well, given how long he's been in jail, I doubt he'll be sweating that.

I'm really looking forward to the judgement.

If it goes against MacDonald and I think it will, does that mean he will stop appealing or lose the right to stop appealing?

If it went in his favor, that would be very interesting.

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If it goes against MacDonald and I think it will, does that mean he will stop appealing or lose the right to stop appealing?

He can appeal. In the article, McGinnis explains how it's possible this case could go on and on, at six months to a year each step of the way.

The article is at this link.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/opinion/sunday/court-cases-that-drag-on-forever.html?_r=0

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It's over a year and still no decision. :td:

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From the following article: "Eighteen months have passed since James C. Fox, a senior judge for the U.S. Eastern District of North Carolina, told defense attorney's and prosecutors at his bench that he needed to 'get it settled' in his own mind 'what we we're doing and where we're going'."

The article goes on: "Transcripts of the hearing were prepared for the official record by early 2013. Attorney's for each side filed the last of their responses and replies to arguments by Sept. 23, 2013."

Well, after six months, one can only wonder just how much longer it'll be before Judge Fox can get his mind settled.

http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/03/14/3702703/no-word-yet-on-jeffrey-macdonalds.html

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Perhaps the most tragic part of the murder--or what feels the most tragic to me--is that, from the story told by putting the evidence together (including each of the four McDonald's having different blood types), it looks pretty clear that the one girl, the one in her own bed, was killed by her father just to make his phony story look more convincing. That was the murder for which JM was found guilty with premeditation. The other two were considered unplanned, occurring out of a violent rage exploding from JM finding the bed wet by the other little girl when he was going to turn in. He blew up and began beating the child, and the pregnant mother tried in vain to stop JM's assault. It looks like she got a small knife from the kitchen, and in the ensuing struggle, mother and daughter were killed. I can't imagine why the other child, asleep in her own bedroom, wasn't awakened, but apparently she slept thru it. So when JM was putting his "drug-seeking, hippie killers" story together, he decided the other child would have to be murdered too, or it would call into question the veracity of his story. Wow. That's cold to the bone.

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Oh, indeed. MacDonald's cold to the bone!

It was said to be very unusual that each family member had a different blood type, and it was because of that fact that it could be determined (as close as possible, of course) what actually did occur, how, where and when.

Based on the blood evidence, it appears an altercation began in the master bedroom between MacDonald and Collette. At some point, Collette might have hit MacDonald with a hairbrush. (He had an abrasion on his forehead/eyebrow area or where ever.)

It's theorized that Kimberly may have been inadvertently struck with the club as MacDonald was using it on Collette. (There was a lot of Kimberly's blood there.) At some point, MacDonald carried Kimberly back to her room where she was found in her own bed.

Yes, Kristin's murder was premeditated. She was also found in her own bed.

Re: that one knife in the bedroom, I don't remember the details or what MacDonald said about it...it seems he claimed he'd pulled it out of Collette's chest- which completely contradicts the evidence- but regardless, I think MacDonald had gotten that knife from the kitchen at the same time he'd gotten the other knife and icepick and he forgot about that one knife (maybe he forgot because he didn't use it) and so that's why it wasn't ditched along with the other weapons.

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