A Wilderness of Error

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Morally Indefensible Key Art

"This person who you spent these weeks in close proximity to and actually found yourself fond of? Could he do this?"
- Joe McGinniss

Morally Indefensible

Chapter 2 | THE TRIAL

At Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s murder trial, journalist Joe McGinniss comes face to face with the evidence, and questions whether his new friend might be a murderer.
At Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s murder trial, journalist Joe McGinniss comes face to face with the evidence, and questions whether his new friend might be a murderer.
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"This person who you spent these weeks in close proximity to and actually found yourself fond of? Could he do this?"
- Joe McGinniss

All Episodes

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Episode 01 Thumbnail

Episode: 01

Episode Date: 08/18/2020

Episode Duration: 31:11 mins

FEBRUARY 17TH, 1970

Jeffrey MacDonald was the all-American boy. A green beret doctor with the perfect family.

More Details or Play Episode "FEBRUARY 17TH, 1970"


Episode 02 Thumbnail

Episode: 02

Episode Date: 08/18/2020

Episode Duration: 34:35 mins

THE TRIAL

At Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald's murder trial, journalist Joe McGinniss comes face to face with the evidence.

More Details or Play Episode "THE TRIAL"


Episode 03 Thumbnail

Episode: 03

Episode Date: 08/25/2020

Episode Duration: 26:19 mins

PEN PALS

Joe heads home to write his book about Jeff’s case while Jeff sits in prison serving three life sentences.

More Details or Play Episode "PEN PALS"


Episode 04 Thumbnail

Episode: 04

Episode Date: 09/01/2020

Episode Duration: 26:53 mins

THE CONFESSIONS

Jeffrey MacDonald's new lawyers uncover some startling new evidence.

More Details or Play Episode "THE CONFESSIONS"


Episode 05 Thumbnail

Episode: 05

Episode Date: 09/08/2020

Episode Duration: 22:02 mins

FRIENDS BECOME ENEMIES

Joe McGinniss's book finally comes out. It's called Fatal Vision.

More Details or Play Episode "FRIENDS BECOME ENEMIES"


Episode 06 Thumbnail

Episode: 06

Episode Date: 09/15/2020

Episode Duration: 28:36 mins

HOW MANY LIES WOULD YOU TELL TO GET TO THE TRUTH?

Jeffrey MacDonald finally gets his day in court... civil court, that is.

More Details or Play Episode "HOW MANY LIES WOULD YOU TELL TO GET TO THE TRUTH?"


Episode 07 Thumbnail

Episode: 07

Episode Date: 09/22/2020

Episode Duration: 28:55 mins

MORALLY INDEFENSIBLE

Joe McGinniss takes a page from Jeffrey MacDonald's playbook and invites famous journalist Janet Malcolm to write about the lawsuit.

More Details or Play Episode "MORALLY INDEFENSIBLE"


Episode 08 Thumbnail

Episode: 08

Episode Date: 09/24/2020

Episode Duration: 31:33 mins

THE FINAL WITNESS

After more than thirty years in prison, Jeffrey MacDonald is granted a new hearing to present evidence that may finally set him free.

More Details or Play Episode "THE FINAL WITNESS"


Episode Transcript

CHAPTER 2: THE TRIAL

It’s a hot afternoon in July, 1979. Jeffrey MacDonald is jogging around a track in Raleigh, North Carolina.

It’s a hot afternoon in July, 1979. Jeffrey MacDonald is jogging around a track in Raleigh, North Carolina.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Reporter: It has been almost nine years since Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald resigned from the Green Berets in order to build a new life. He says running is a means of forgetting his past, which still haunts him.

Reporter: It has been almost nine years since Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald resigned from the Green Berets in order to build a new life. He says running is a means of forgetting his past, which still haunts him.

Jeff: It’s a way I think of relieving some tension and anxiety, it’s my way of relaxation. There’s a lot of tension right now, so I’m running a little more than normal.

Jeff: It’s a way I think of relieving some tension and anxiety, it’s my way of relaxation. There’s a lot of tension right now, so I’m running a little more than normal.

Jeff’s in Raleigh to stand trial for the murders of his wife and two daughters nine years ago. But at least he's got a new friend to run with: the writer of his story - Joe McGinniss.

Jeff’s in Raleigh to stand trial for the murders of his wife and two daughters nine years ago. But at least he's got a new friend to run with: the writer of his story - Joe McGinniss.

Joe: I jogged with him around the track. I sat and drank a beer with him in the evening. I began liking him very much.

Joe: I jogged with him around the track. I sat and drank a beer with him in the evening. I began liking him very much.

It’s summertime, so Jeff rented a fraternity house on a local college campus. Everyone’s moved in together. Jeff’s lawyers, their assistants, Jeff, and Joe.

It’s summertime, so Jeff rented a fraternity house on a local college campus. Everyone’s moved in together. Jeff’s lawyers, their assistants, Jeff, and Joe.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Per their agreement, Joe would have access to every aspect of Jeff’s defense. And one of the first things he got to see was this video tape…

Per their agreement, Joe would have access to every aspect of Jeff’s defense. And one of the first things he got to see was this video tape…

[SFX: video tape insert, start]

[SFX: video tape insert, start]

William Kroger: Dr. MacDonald, this is Dr. Kroger, and I do have your permission, do I not, to use hypnosis today?

William Kroger: Dr. MacDonald, this is Dr. Kroger, and I do have your permission, do I not, to use hypnosis today?

Jeffrey MacDonald: Yes, you do.

Jeffrey MacDonald: Yes, you do.

In an attempt to get more detail about what happened the night of the murders, Jeff’s lawyer arranged for him to be hypnotized.

In an attempt to get more detail about what happened the night of the murders, Jeff’s lawyer arranged for him to be hypnotized.

William Kroger: And so what I’d like to do, is to have you look at a spot directly above your forehead. At the count of three, you will close your lids. And after you close your lids, that is when you will go into this nice deep state of relaxation, we call hypnosis. One, two, three.

William Kroger: And so what I’d like to do, is to have you look at a spot directly above your forehead. At the count of three, you will close your lids. And after you close your lids, that is when you will go into this nice deep state of relaxation, we call hypnosis. One, two, three.

[MUSIC VERBOUT]

[MUSIC VERBOUT]

[THEME IN]

[THEME IN]

Mike Wallace: Jeffrey MacDonald was the best and the brightest.

Mike Wallace: Jeffrey MacDonald was the best and the brightest.

Reporter: A Golden boy, ivy leaguer, green beret.

Reporter: A Golden boy, ivy leaguer, green beret.

Wallace: Back in 1970, his pregnant wife and their two daughters were brutally murdered in their army home.

Wallace: Back in 1970, his pregnant wife and their two daughters were brutally murdered in their army home.

Jeff: I never assaulted anyone in my life, and certainly not my wife and two children.

Jeff: I never assaulted anyone in my life, and certainly not my wife and two children.

Jeff Thompson: Why was he still alive and the family was murdered the way it was?

Jeff Thompson: Why was he still alive and the family was murdered the way it was?

Female reporter: A six month army investigation cleared Doctor MacDonald.

Female reporter: A six month army investigation cleared Doctor MacDonald.

Male reporter: MacDonald was indicted for the murders of his wife and two young daughters.

Male reporter: MacDonald was indicted for the murders of his wife and two young daughters.

Buckley: Mr. Joe McGinniss is the author of a bestselling book. It is the fruit of a great deception.

Buckley: Mr. Joe McGinniss is the author of a bestselling book. It is the fruit of a great deception.

Nancy: This guy MacDonald was going to stand trial. He thought oh my god this is a great story.

Nancy: This guy MacDonald was going to stand trial. He thought oh my god this is a great story.

Nancy: There was a gleam in his eye. A gleam in his eye was a good sign something big was going to happen.

Nancy: There was a gleam in his eye. A gleam in his eye was a good sign something big was going to happen.

[THEME OUT]

[THEME OUT]

I’m Marc Smerling, and this... is Morally Indefensible.

I’m Marc Smerling, and this... is Morally Indefensible.

Chapter Two: The Trial.

Chapter Two: The Trial.

[tape recorder loading]

[tape recorder loading]

Kroger: And as your eyeballs roll up into the back of your head, notice...

Kroger: And as your eyeballs roll up into the back of your head, notice...

In a fraternity house in Raleigh, North Carolina, writer Joe McGinniss is watching a videotape… of a hypnotized Jeffrey MacDonald talking about the night his family was murdered.

In a fraternity house in Raleigh, North Carolina, writer Joe McGinniss is watching a videotape… of a hypnotized Jeffrey MacDonald talking about the night his family was murdered.

Kroger: And now doctor, we’re going back in time. It’s February 17th, 1970, at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. And in the darkened theater of your mind, look around and tell me what time it is?

Kroger: And now doctor, we’re going back in time. It’s February 17th, 1970, at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. And in the darkened theater of your mind, look around and tell me what time it is?

Jeff MacDonald: It’s almost 2 a.m.

Jeff MacDonald: It’s almost 2 a.m.

Dr. 2: Where are you located?

Dr. 2: Where are you located?

Jeff MacDonald: On the couch.

Jeff MacDonald: On the couch.

On the night of the murders, Jeff said he was watching TV and fell asleep on the couch. But then he was awakened...by the screams of his wife...

On the night of the murders, Jeff said he was watching TV and fell asleep on the couch. But then he was awakened...by the screams of his wife...

Jeff: I hear Colette.

Jeff: I hear Colette.

Doctor: What is she saying?

Doctor: What is she saying?

Jeff: Jeff, help me.

Jeff: Jeff, help me.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Jeff also heard his daughter, Kimberly, calling out for him.

Jeff also heard his daughter, Kimberly, calling out for him.

Doctor: And what's Kimmy saying?

Doctor: And what's Kimmy saying?

Jeff: Daddy daddy daddy daddy.

Jeff: Daddy daddy daddy daddy.

Jeff: I see some people. Three men. I start to get up. What the hell are you people doing in my house?

Jeff: I see some people. Three men. I start to get up. What the hell are you people doing in my house?

Jeff: I see this girl between the two white guys. There’s a light on her face. She’s blonde. She’s saying acid is groovy kill the pigs. Acid is groovy kill the pig.

Jeff: I see this girl between the two white guys. There’s a light on her face. She’s blonde. She’s saying acid is groovy kill the pigs. Acid is groovy kill the pig.

Jeff: The black guy’s got something in his hands. He’s gonna hit me.

Jeff: The black guy’s got something in his hands. He’s gonna hit me.

Jeff: *Grunts and breathes heavily*

Jeff: *Grunts and breathes heavily*

Jeff: Two guys are punching me, they’re pulling me to the end of the couch.

Jeff: Two guys are punching me, they’re pulling me to the end of the couch.

Jeff: There’s a blade. He’s trying to stab me. I can’t free my arms.

Jeff: There’s a blade. He’s trying to stab me. I can’t free my arms.

Jeff: My fucking pajama top is wrapped all around. Someone hit me with a club.

Jeff: My fucking pajama top is wrapped all around. Someone hit me with a club.

Jeff: I’m sliding forward, I’m sliding forward.

Jeff: I’m sliding forward, I’m sliding forward.

[Music Out]

[Music Out]

Jeff says he was knocked out. Joe would write about what he saw on this videotape in his book, "Fatal Vision..."

Jeff says he was knocked out. Joe would write about what he saw on this videotape in his book, "Fatal Vision..."

[SFX: Typewriter]

[SFX: Typewriter]

Joe’s Voice: In a voice so distraught, so filled with desperation he recounted what had happened after he gained consciousness. Giving mouth to mouth to Collette. Observing Kimberly in her bed. And then Kristen.

Joe’s Voice: In a voice so distraught, so filled with desperation he recounted what had happened after he gained consciousness. Giving mouth to mouth to Collette. Observing Kimberly in her bed. And then Kristen.

Jeff: She’s my little girl.

Jeff: She’s my little girl.

Joe’s Voice: The emotional impact of the tape was overwhelming.

Joe’s Voice: The emotional impact of the tape was overwhelming.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[Jeff crying reverb out]

[Jeff crying reverb out]

Years later, sitting on the front porch of his house in Wilmington, North Carolina, Joe would describe for Journalist Janet Malcolm how he felt about Jeff before the trial.

Years later, sitting on the front porch of his house in Wilmington, North Carolina, Joe would describe for Journalist Janet Malcolm how he felt about Jeff before the trial.

Joe: Here’s a man who is maintaining his innocence of arguably the worst crime a person could commit, murdering his own family. And if this guy didn’t do it, it’s terrible what he’s gone through. And if he did do it well, he’s terrible.

Joe: Here’s a man who is maintaining his innocence of arguably the worst crime a person could commit, murdering his own family. And if this guy didn’t do it, it’s terrible what he’s gone through. And if he did do it well, he’s terrible.

Janet: I had thought that you started out thinking he was innocent.

Janet: I had thought that you started out thinking he was innocent.

Joe: I started out not knowing at all. I started out as a juror would, making the presumption of innocence.

Joe: I started out not knowing at all. I started out as a juror would, making the presumption of innocence.

[EXT. COURTHOUSE SFX]

[EXT. COURTHOUSE SFX]

Rebecca Chase: In Long Beach, California, Jeffrey MacDonald is an emergency room doctor. In the army, he was a green beret. Here in Raleigh, he is on trial for murder.

Rebecca Chase: In Long Beach, California, Jeffrey MacDonald is an emergency room doctor. In the army, he was a green beret. Here in Raleigh, he is on trial for murder.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

It had taken nine years for the Government to indict Jeffrey MacDonald after the military had let him go free. It had taken niine years of newspaper stories and TV segments speculating about what had happened to the MacDonald Family on that horrible, rainy night back in 1970.

It had taken nine years for the Government to indict Jeffrey MacDonald after the military had let him go free. It had taken niine years of newspaper stories and TV segments speculating about what had happened to the MacDonald Family on that horrible, rainy night back in 1970.

Male Reporter: A former army doctor is on trial for the murder of his family…

Male Reporter: A former army doctor is on trial for the murder of his family…

Male Reporter: Now On trial..

Male Reporter: Now On trial..

Male Reporter: The murder trial of a former army doctor and green beret.

Male Reporter: The murder trial of a former army doctor and green beret.

Thames: To some extent, the whole country was watching this trial.

Thames: To some extent, the whole country was watching this trial.

Rick Thames was one of many reporters there to cover the case. He got his first glimpse of MacDonald outside the courthouse.

Rick Thames was one of many reporters there to cover the case. He got his first glimpse of MacDonald outside the courthouse.

Jeff: Good morning, hi Rebecca.

Jeff: Good morning, hi Rebecca.

Thames: MacDonald was a charismatic personality, no doubt about it. There was such a mystery about it too.

Thames: MacDonald was a charismatic personality, no doubt about it. There was such a mystery about it too.

Rebecca Chase: Are you in some ways hoping that the fact that you’re a doctor that you look you sound like a doctor will in fact make a very strong impression on the jury?

Rebecca Chase: Are you in some ways hoping that the fact that you’re a doctor that you look you sound like a doctor will in fact make a very strong impression on the jury?

Jeff: Well I have no control over my appearance.

Jeff: Well I have no control over my appearance.

Thames: If you talked to people on the street, a lot of them would say, ‘I just can’t make up my mind, but I can’t believe he would do this.’

Thames: If you talked to people on the street, a lot of them would say, ‘I just can’t make up my mind, but I can’t believe he would do this.’

Jeff: There’s no evidence against me there never has been, and this jury’s gonna find me not guilty, I am innocent.

Jeff: There’s no evidence against me there never has been, and this jury’s gonna find me not guilty, I am innocent.

Thames: My audience could not get enough of this.

Thames: My audience could not get enough of this.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[DOOR OPEN]

[DOOR OPEN]

[Courtroom SFX]

[Courtroom SFX]

At exactly 9:45 a.m., Jeff walks through the large wooden doors into the courtroom. He sets his briefcase on the defense table, opens a small pack of green mints, and waits for the prosecution to start.

At exactly 9:45 a.m., Jeff walks through the large wooden doors into the courtroom. He sets his briefcase on the defense table, opens a small pack of green mints, and waits for the prosecution to start.

[GAVEL STRIKE]

[GAVEL STRIKE]

This would be Prosecutor Jim Blackburn’s first murder trial.

This would be Prosecutor Jim Blackburn’s first murder trial.

Blackburn: Sure I was nervous. I see MacDonald and all these lawyers and all his friends there. He was a rock star, he was considered that in Raleigh.

Blackburn: Sure I was nervous. I see MacDonald and all these lawyers and all his friends there. He was a rock star, he was considered that in Raleigh.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a complicated case. Physical evidence is real. Let me assure you, that things do not lie.

Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a complicated case. Physical evidence is real. Let me assure you, that things do not lie.

Reporter Rick Thames was in the gallery that day.

Reporter Rick Thames was in the gallery that day.

Rick Thames: There was a lot of stuff in the front of the courtroom.

Rick Thames: There was a lot of stuff in the front of the courtroom.

The government had collected a mountain of evidence: more than 150 exhibits.

The government had collected a mountain of evidence: more than 150 exhibits.

Rick Thames: And you didn’t really understand yet what it all meant. But they assured us in the opening argument that it would make sense by the end of the trial.

Rick Thames: And you didn’t really understand yet what it all meant. But they assured us in the opening argument that it would make sense by the end of the trial.

Jim Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen, we believe the physical evidence points to the fact that one person killed Collette, Kimberly and Kristen, and that that person is the defendant.

Jim Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen, we believe the physical evidence points to the fact that one person killed Collette, Kimberly and Kristen, and that that person is the defendant.

Blackburn had his job cut out for him. Jeff was a doctor. A lifesaver, not a killer. And the case was cold.

Blackburn had his job cut out for him. Jeff was a doctor. A lifesaver, not a killer. And the case was cold.

Jim Blackburn: A lot of people would say to us, it’s been nine years why don’t you let this go?

Jim Blackburn: A lot of people would say to us, it’s been nine years why don’t you let this go?

[SLIDE MACHINE TURNING ON SFX]

[SLIDE MACHINE TURNING ON SFX]

The lights dimmed as Prosecutor Blackburn flipped the switch on a slide projector.

The lights dimmed as Prosecutor Blackburn flipped the switch on a slide projector.

[SLIDE CHANGE SFX]

[SLIDE CHANGE SFX]

Blackburn: If I show you a photograph of the body of a young daughter, time becomes irrelevant.

Blackburn: If I show you a photograph of the body of a young daughter, time becomes irrelevant.

An image of five year old Kimberly MacDonald flashed onto the screen.

An image of five year old Kimberly MacDonald flashed onto the screen.

Blackburn: She was the older child. Stabbed 7 or 8 times and hit with a club.

Blackburn: She was the older child. Stabbed 7 or 8 times and hit with a club.

She’s laying on her side in her bed. The right side of her face... is caved in.

She’s laying on her side in her bed. The right side of her face... is caved in.

[SLIDE FX]

[SLIDE FX]

Then... a picture of two-year-old Kristen MacDonald...

Then... a picture of two-year-old Kristen MacDonald...

Blackburn: Younger daughter stabbed over 30 times.

Blackburn: Younger daughter stabbed over 30 times.

Her bed sheets are soaked with blood.

Her bed sheets are soaked with blood.

[SLIDE FX]

[SLIDE FX]

Jeff’s wife, Colette, lying on the floor in the master bedroom - a bright red halo staining the shag carpet around her head.

Jeff’s wife, Colette, lying on the floor in the master bedroom - a bright red halo staining the shag carpet around her head.

[Slight pause]

[Slight pause]

[SLIDE FX]

[SLIDE FX]

Blackburn: Stabbed 21 times with an ice pick, hit with a club, both arms crushed, her skull crushed.

Blackburn: Stabbed 21 times with an ice pick, hit with a club, both arms crushed, her skull crushed.

Blackburn: If I show you a picture of a 26-year-old mom totally and utterly destroyed.

Blackburn: If I show you a picture of a 26-year-old mom totally and utterly destroyed.

[SLIDE FX]

[SLIDE FX]

Blackburn: Time becomes irrelevant.

Blackburn: Time becomes irrelevant.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

There was only one way for Blackburn to describe how the MacDonald family had been murdered. Overkill.

There was only one way for Blackburn to describe how the MacDonald family had been murdered. Overkill.

Blackburn: Did we want to enrage the jury? You’re darn right we wanted to enrage the jury. Because it was enraging that these people were killed.

Blackburn: Did we want to enrage the jury? You’re darn right we wanted to enrage the jury. Because it was enraging that these people were killed.

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

But then Blackburn showed the jury Jeff’s injuries.

But then Blackburn showed the jury Jeff’s injuries.

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

He had some superficial cuts.

He had some superficial cuts.

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

A few bruises.

A few bruises.

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

[SFX: SLIDE CHANGE]

And a small, almost surgical incision, in his chest that had punctured his lung.

And a small, almost surgical incision, in his chest that had punctured his lung.

Blackburn: Except for the surgical thing on his chest, he didn’t even have Band-Aid on him later on. He didn’t have a stitch.

Blackburn: Except for the surgical thing on his chest, he didn’t even have Band-Aid on him later on. He didn’t have a stitch.

How had Jeff sustained so few injuries, when the rest of his family had been so brutalized?

How had Jeff sustained so few injuries, when the rest of his family had been so brutalized?

Blackburn: It’s a devastating question because it’s exactly what the jury is thinking.

Blackburn: It’s a devastating question because it’s exactly what the jury is thinking.

For Joe sitting in the gallery watching all this, that question wore on him. Even years later, talking to Janet Malcolm on his porch, he remembered those pictures.

For Joe sitting in the gallery watching all this, that question wore on him. Even years later, talking to Janet Malcolm on his porch, he remembered those pictures.

Joe: To be exposed firsthand to the graphic evidence. The murder of little girls and this pregnant woman. This was very upsetting. I couldn't reconcile this guy who I had become so well acquainted with, with a person capable of having done this to his own wife and children.

Joe: To be exposed firsthand to the graphic evidence. The murder of little girls and this pregnant woman. This was very upsetting. I couldn't reconcile this guy who I had become so well acquainted with, with a person capable of having done this to his own wife and children.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[SFX: SLIDE PROJECTOR OFF]

[SFX: SLIDE PROJECTOR OFF]

BREAK ONE

BREAK ONE

To write the best book he could, Joe McGinniss had to attend every day of Jeffrey MacDonald's murder trial, listen carefully and take notes. And even outside the courthouse, his attention was always on Jeff. He would write about it in his book, Fatal Vision.

To write the best book he could, Joe McGinniss had to attend every day of Jeffrey MacDonald's murder trial, listen carefully and take notes. And even outside the courthouse, his attention was always on Jeff. He would write about it in his book, Fatal Vision.

[MUSIC]

[MUSIC]

Joe: It began to grow rather unsettling as I rode to and from the courtroom with MacDonald.

Joe: It began to grow rather unsettling as I rode to and from the courtroom with MacDonald.

[SFX: car door opening, reporter mob]

[SFX: car door opening, reporter mob]

Joe: ...and as I sat up late with him watching Saturday Night Live.

Joe: ...and as I sat up late with him watching Saturday Night Live.

[SFX: SNL on TV,TV fades into]

[SFX: SNL on TV,TV fades into]

[SFX: scene of dinner at frat house, voices fade to muffle as Joe’s voice comes back, a man alone in his head]

[SFX: scene of dinner at frat house, voices fade to muffle as Joe’s voice comes back, a man alone in his head]

Joe: It was not the sort of thing one spoke about over the Kappa Alpha dinner table, but he had not been badly hurt in 1970. I had seen by now the pictures of his wife and two children. I’d seen too many pictures, too many times...There were a lot of nights I didn’t sleep in Raleigh.

Joe: It was not the sort of thing one spoke about over the Kappa Alpha dinner table, but he had not been badly hurt in 1970. I had seen by now the pictures of his wife and two children. I’d seen too many pictures, too many times...There were a lot of nights I didn’t sleep in Raleigh.

And when he couldn’t sleep, Joe would sneak down the hall to call his wife, Nancy.

And when he couldn’t sleep, Joe would sneak down the hall to call his wife, Nancy.

Nancy: He would call up and sort of have whispered conversations with me. I think he was already starting to get pulled apart by the conflict that was going on inside him. He started to just get more and more scared.

Nancy: He would call up and sort of have whispered conversations with me. I think he was already starting to get pulled apart by the conflict that was going on inside him. He started to just get more and more scared.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[SFX courtroom]

[SFX courtroom]

Back in the courtroom, the prosecution called Bill Ivory, the Army’s lead investigator. Ivory had arrived at 544 Castle Drive soon after the military police to find Collette MacDonald in the master bedroom.

Back in the courtroom, the prosecution called Bill Ivory, the Army’s lead investigator. Ivory had arrived at 544 Castle Drive soon after the military police to find Collette MacDonald in the master bedroom.

[SFX]

[SFX]

Bill Ivory: She was laying on her back. She had been badly beaten. And there was a blue piece of cloth that was laying across her abdomen. And we thought that was strange.

Bill Ivory: She was laying on her back. She had been badly beaten. And there was a blue piece of cloth that was laying across her abdomen. And we thought that was strange.

That cloth was Jeff’s torn, blue pajama top. Jeff had told investigators that when he discovered his wife, he put his pajama top on her chest to keep her warm, so she wouldn’t go into shock. Joe McGinniss was in the courtroom listening to Ivory's testimony.

That cloth was Jeff’s torn, blue pajama top. Jeff had told investigators that when he discovered his wife, he put his pajama top on her chest to keep her warm, so she wouldn’t go into shock. Joe McGinniss was in the courtroom listening to Ivory's testimony.

Joe: Ivory picked up the pajama top that had been draped across Colette’ MacDonald’s chest. He found that it was riddled with small cylindrical round holes. He immediately said we better get someone to the hospital to talk to this man, because anybody who was wearing this pajama top isn’t going to survive very long.

Joe: Ivory picked up the pajama top that had been draped across Colette’ MacDonald’s chest. He found that it was riddled with small cylindrical round holes. He immediately said we better get someone to the hospital to talk to this man, because anybody who was wearing this pajama top isn’t going to survive very long.

The pajama top had more than forty ice pick holes in it, but Ivory found out later that Jeffrey had only one wound, the incision that had punctured his lung. So how did those holes in the pajama top get there?

The pajama top had more than forty ice pick holes in it, but Ivory found out later that Jeffrey had only one wound, the incision that had punctured his lung. So how did those holes in the pajama top get there?

As Colette's body was lifted onto a gurney, Ivory noticed something else: a blue thread from the pajama top...dangling from the back of Colette’s head. If Jeff hadn’t been in the room when Collette was attacked, why was this thread underneath her body?

As Colette's body was lifted onto a gurney, Ivory noticed something else: a blue thread from the pajama top...dangling from the back of Colette’s head. If Jeff hadn’t been in the room when Collette was attacked, why was this thread underneath her body?

Bill Ivory: There was a preponderance of fabric threads that matched his pajama shirt all over that bedroom.

Bill Ivory: There was a preponderance of fabric threads that matched his pajama shirt all over that bedroom.

Blackburn: He claimed that the life and death struggle with four people took place in the living room. The only thing that was found in the shag carpet was a piece of Christmas tinsel. However there were dozens of threads found in the master bedroom. Common sense will tell you that that’s where the fight took place.

Blackburn: He claimed that the life and death struggle with four people took place in the living room. The only thing that was found in the shag carpet was a piece of Christmas tinsel. However there were dozens of threads found in the master bedroom. Common sense will tell you that that’s where the fight took place.

Blackburn: His story did not hold up against the physical evidence.

Blackburn: His story did not hold up against the physical evidence.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

And Blackburn had a theory about where Jeff's story came from... an Esquire magazine found on the floor in the living room.

And Blackburn had a theory about where Jeff's story came from... an Esquire magazine found on the floor in the living room.

Blackburn: I think that the concept of intruders came from that.

Blackburn: I think that the concept of intruders came from that.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

That magazine had articles in it… about hippies and drug culture.

That magazine had articles in it… about hippies and drug culture.

Blackburn: We read that in the trial. Some of the article.

Blackburn: We read that in the trial. Some of the article.

[SFX: Page turn]

[SFX: Page turn]

Hippy voice: ...Acid does expand the mind. I believe in powers you can’t explain…

Hippy voice: ...Acid does expand the mind. I believe in powers you can’t explain…

[SFX: Page turn]

[SFX: Page turn]

Different hippy voice: That’s the whole heavy thing about too many people turned on to acid: to most of them, the devil just looks groovier.

Different hippy voice: That’s the whole heavy thing about too many people turned on to acid: to most of them, the devil just looks groovier.

Blackburn: You get the words like acid is groovy and pigs.

Blackburn: You get the words like acid is groovy and pigs.

Jeff (REVERB): Acid is groovy, kill the pigs.

Jeff (REVERB): Acid is groovy, kill the pigs.

....and there was another article in that magazine…about the Manson murders.

....and there was another article in that magazine…about the Manson murders.

Blackburn: MacDonald writing the word “pig” on the headboard was sort of a throwback to the Manson murders. Staging a scene to make it look like drug crazed hippies.

Blackburn: MacDonald writing the word “pig” on the headboard was sort of a throwback to the Manson murders. Staging a scene to make it look like drug crazed hippies.

Blackburn: MacDonald claimed that he was stabbed in the living room, that’s not so.

Blackburn: MacDonald claimed that he was stabbed in the living room, that’s not so.

Blackburn: The only blood that is found in the living room is a speck of blood on his glasses on the floor, and a fingerprint smudge on the Esquire magazine.

Blackburn: The only blood that is found in the living room is a speck of blood on his glasses on the floor, and a fingerprint smudge on the Esquire magazine.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

After four weeks of evidence, Blackburn rested his case. Joe flew home for the weekend to be with his wife, Nancy, and their son.

After four weeks of evidence, Blackburn rested his case. Joe flew home for the weekend to be with his wife, Nancy, and their son.

Nancy McGinniss: He was very agitated. He couldn’t relax, he was just so uptight. Our son Matthew was maybe six or seven months old and he was already very attuned to Joe. If Joe was upset, Matthew was upset. And I could see it in the baby. He was like physically reflecting what Joe was feeling.

Nancy McGinniss: He was very agitated. He couldn’t relax, he was just so uptight. Our son Matthew was maybe six or seven months old and he was already very attuned to Joe. If Joe was upset, Matthew was upset. And I could see it in the baby. He was like physically reflecting what Joe was feeling.

Nancy McGinniss: Joe still really liked Jeff. I mean he had kids who were the same ages as Jeff’s little girls would have been if they’d lived. He tried to project himself into Jeffrey’s situation as a victim. But he couldn’t project himself into Jeffrey’s situation if he were the perpetrator. It was really hard to decide which one Jeffrey was.

Nancy McGinniss: Joe still really liked Jeff. I mean he had kids who were the same ages as Jeff’s little girls would have been if they’d lived. He tried to project himself into Jeffrey’s situation as a victim. But he couldn’t project himself into Jeffrey’s situation if he were the perpetrator. It was really hard to decide which one Jeffrey was.

[LONG TAIL]

[LONG TAIL]

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]


"This person who you spent these weeks in close proximity to and actually found yourself fond of? Could he do this?"
- Joe McGinniss

BREAK TWO

BREAK TWO

After four weeks of hearing the prosecution’s case, it was time for Jeff’s defense.

After four weeks of hearing the prosecution’s case, it was time for Jeff’s defense.

Wade Smith: I wanted to do the best job I could possibly do for this man.

Wade Smith: I wanted to do the best job I could possibly do for this man.

This is Wade Smith, Jeff’s lawyer. His main strategy was to prove that Jeff couldn’t have committed the murders, because someone else did. And he had an ace up his sleeve. A surprise witness by the name of James Milne.

This is Wade Smith, Jeff’s lawyer. His main strategy was to prove that Jeff couldn’t have committed the murders, because someone else did. And he had an ace up his sleeve. A surprise witness by the name of James Milne.

Wade: I interviewed him with great care, and this was a truthful man.

Wade: I interviewed him with great care, and this was a truthful man.

Back in 1970, Milne was an army pilot just back from Vietnam. He was Jeff’s neighbor.

Back in 1970, Milne was an army pilot just back from Vietnam. He was Jeff’s neighbor.

Wade Smith: And I remember it was such a vibrant, powerful story. It gave me chills.

Wade Smith: And I remember it was such a vibrant, powerful story. It gave me chills.

Milne VO: I’d just come home from Vietnam. And I couldn’t sleep.

Milne VO: I’d just come home from Vietnam. And I couldn’t sleep.

This is a recreation of Milne’s testimony in the court that day...

This is a recreation of Milne’s testimony in the court that day...

Milne VO: So sometimes I’d get up in the night and work on model airplanes. And on this particular night, I heard chanting. And I got up and looked out the door and there were three people with candles walking by my yard. Two men and a woman with long blonde hair. Walking toward the MacDonald home.

Milne VO: So sometimes I’d get up in the night and work on model airplanes. And on this particular night, I heard chanting. And I got up and looked out the door and there were three people with candles walking by my yard. Two men and a woman with long blonde hair. Walking toward the MacDonald home.

Wade: Wow. Unbelievable.

Wade: Wow. Unbelievable.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

You may remember that Jeffrey MacDonald described his attackers as three men and a woman wearing a floppy hat. He also told investigators that the woman had a light on her face. Maybe it was a candle.

You may remember that Jeffrey MacDonald described his attackers as three men and a woman wearing a floppy hat. He also told investigators that the woman had a light on her face. Maybe it was a candle.

Wade Smith: I have no doubt that those people were there. I don’t know what they did when they passed through his yard. There’s no doubt he told the truth.

Wade Smith: I have no doubt that those people were there. I don’t know what they did when they passed through his yard. There’s no doubt he told the truth.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

And there was something else… It turned out that ever since 1970, a local woman named Helena Stoeckley had been telling people a crazy story.

And there was something else… It turned out that ever since 1970, a local woman named Helena Stoeckley had been telling people a crazy story.

Wade: In moments of quietness, she had revealed that she was there. And that they had murdered his family.

Wade: In moments of quietness, she had revealed that she was there. And that they had murdered his family.

Helena was known to wear a blonde wig and a floppy hat. Maybe she was the woman James Milne saw that night…but there was only one way to know for sure.

Helena was known to wear a blonde wig and a floppy hat. Maybe she was the woman James Milne saw that night…but there was only one way to know for sure.

Frank Mills: The judge in the MacDonald case had issued a material witness bench warrant for Helena Stoeckley.

Frank Mills: The judge in the MacDonald case had issued a material witness bench warrant for Helena Stoeckley.

This is Frank Mills, the FBI agent sent out to find her....

This is Frank Mills, the FBI agent sent out to find her....

Frank Mills: They wanted us to take her into custody and get her back up to Raleigh as fast as we could.

Frank Mills: They wanted us to take her into custody and get her back up to Raleigh as fast as we could.

Mills tracked Helena to a trailer, deep in the woods off a country road.

Mills tracked Helena to a trailer, deep in the woods off a country road.

Frank Mills: It was sitting by itself out in the middle of nowhere.

Frank Mills: It was sitting by itself out in the middle of nowhere.

Frank Mills: I went into the trailer. And I went down the hallway. And when I got to the last bedroom, I opened the door. And a female got up alongside the bed and had a rifle in her hand and she pointed it directly at me. And I said, “Helena, drop that gun.” And she put it down on the bed. She said, “You’re lucky. I tried to buy ammunition for this gun yesterday, but I couldn’t buy it.” And I said, “we’re probably both lucky then.”

Frank Mills: I went into the trailer. And I went down the hallway. And when I got to the last bedroom, I opened the door. And a female got up alongside the bed and had a rifle in her hand and she pointed it directly at me. And I said, “Helena, drop that gun.” And she put it down on the bed. She said, “You’re lucky. I tried to buy ammunition for this gun yesterday, but I couldn’t buy it.” And I said, “we’re probably both lucky then.”

Helena was brought to the courthouse in Raleigh, where the judge allowed the defense to meet with her in private. Finally, Jeff's lawyers were sitting across from the woman they thought could solve the case. Joe McGinniss was there too, and as usual, he was taking notes.

Helena was brought to the courthouse in Raleigh, where the judge allowed the defense to meet with her in private. Finally, Jeff's lawyers were sitting across from the woman they thought could solve the case. Joe McGinniss was there too, and as usual, he was taking notes.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Joe: Her hair was black. She was many pounds overweight. Her left arm was in a cast. It had been broken in Cincinnati. Someone had hit her with a tire iron during a dispute involving narcotics.

Joe: Her hair was black. She was many pounds overweight. Her left arm was in a cast. It had been broken in Cincinnati. Someone had hit her with a tire iron during a dispute involving narcotics.

Helena told Jeff's lawyers she was so high on drugs the night of the murders, she couldn't remember a thing. So they showed her photos of the crime scene... to help jog her memory.

Helena told Jeff's lawyers she was so high on drugs the night of the murders, she couldn't remember a thing. So they showed her photos of the crime scene... to help jog her memory.

Bernie VO: Helena, help us end it. I beg of you. Look at this child’s face! For god’s sake.

Bernie VO: Helena, help us end it. I beg of you. Look at this child’s face! For god’s sake.

[SFX page turn]

[SFX page turn]

Bernie VO: Smashed with a club. Come on Helena, how much longer will that man have to sit there, accused of something so monstrous?

Bernie VO: Smashed with a club. Come on Helena, how much longer will that man have to sit there, accused of something so monstrous?

Joe's voice: She stared at the picture. There was absolutely no change of expression on her face.

Joe's voice: She stared at the picture. There was absolutely no change of expression on her face.

Helena: 'If I could remember, I would say.'

Helena: 'If I could remember, I would say.'

Joe's voice: It was lunchtime. Helena Stoeckley had just been given a bologna sandwich. She sat quietly, chewing her food and slowly turning the pages of the autopsy photo albums, as if she were browsing through a movie magazine.

Joe's voice: It was lunchtime. Helena Stoeckley had just been given a bologna sandwich. She sat quietly, chewing her food and slowly turning the pages of the autopsy photo albums, as if she were browsing through a movie magazine.

[SFX: Packed Courtroom]

[SFX: Packed Courtroom]

The next day, Helena took the stand and said the same thing… She couldn't remember what happened that night.

The next day, Helena took the stand and said the same thing… She couldn't remember what happened that night.

But Joe wasn’t watching Helena. He was watching Jeff. This was a big moment for Joe. So big that many years later, he would describe it for Janet Malcolm...

But Joe wasn’t watching Helena. He was watching Jeff. This was a big moment for Joe. So big that many years later, he would describe it for Janet Malcolm...

Joe: They finally found this Helena Stoeckley, the witch, the hippy that he said had murdered his wife and kids. They actually found her. And they brought her in here. And here he is confronted for the first time since that night with this woman who he says killed his wife and kids. You’d expect some kind of human response.

Joe: They finally found this Helena Stoeckley, the witch, the hippy that he said had murdered his wife and kids. They actually found her. And they brought her in here. And here he is confronted for the first time since that night with this woman who he says killed his wife and kids. You’d expect some kind of human response.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Joe: There was nothing there.

Joe: There was nothing there.

[SFX: Night, backyard]

[SFX: Night, backyard]

Jim Blackburn: I used to talk to the trees in my backyard, at night. Nobody else was out there but me.

Jim Blackburn: I used to talk to the trees in my backyard, at night. Nobody else was out there but me.

Prosecutor Jim Blackburn again...

Prosecutor Jim Blackburn again...

Jim Blackburn: I remember I was sitting on the grass and I counted up the days that they had been gone. Colette and the two children. The days that they had not had.

Jim Blackburn: I remember I was sitting on the grass and I counted up the days that they had been gone. Colette and the two children. The days that they had not had.

Jim Blackburn: And I gave my closing argument. I did it until I got teary-eyed myself. And when I got teary-eyed myself, I stopped.

Jim Blackburn: And I gave my closing argument. I did it until I got teary-eyed myself. And when I got teary-eyed myself, I stopped.

Jim Blackburn: My goal frankly, I am not going to sit down, I am not going to stop until somebody on the jury cries.

Jim Blackburn: My goal frankly, I am not going to sit down, I am not going to stop until somebody on the jury cries.

[Night fx fade, courtroom up]

[Night fx fade, courtroom up]

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Jim Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen. On the early morning of the 17th of February, time stopped in the MacDonald home. We contend that the defendant killed his family because events overtook themselves too fast.

Jim Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen. On the early morning of the 17th of February, time stopped in the MacDonald home. We contend that the defendant killed his family because events overtook themselves too fast.

During the trial, Blackburn presented hundreds of pieces of evidence to the jury. Now he was going to weave it all into a story.

During the trial, Blackburn presented hundreds of pieces of evidence to the jury. Now he was going to weave it all into a story.

Jim Blackburn: Early in the morning hours of the 17th of February, Jeff and Colette get into a fight in the master bedroom.

Jim Blackburn: Early in the morning hours of the 17th of February, Jeff and Colette get into a fight in the master bedroom.

[SFX: struggle]

[SFX: struggle]

Jim Blackburn: I think MacDonald goes into a rage and strikes her.

Jim Blackburn: I think MacDonald goes into a rage and strikes her.

[SFX: slap]

[SFX: slap]

Jim Blackburn: His pajama top is torn there during a fight. All these threads fall down. There are dozens of those threads found in the master bedroom.

Jim Blackburn: His pajama top is torn there during a fight. All these threads fall down. There are dozens of those threads found in the master bedroom.

Jim Blackburn: There are massive amounts of blood, which is Colette’s blood. It’s on the ceiling. It got there I think by him hitting her with a club and spraying the blood on the ceiling.

Jim Blackburn: There are massive amounts of blood, which is Colette’s blood. It’s on the ceiling. It got there I think by him hitting her with a club and spraying the blood on the ceiling.

[SFX: struggle continues]

[SFX: struggle continues]

Jim Blackburn: I think Kimberley wakes up and hears this fight and goes to see what’s going on and she yells, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy,” which is what MacDonald says he heard her say. I think she did say these things.

Jim Blackburn: I think Kimberley wakes up and hears this fight and goes to see what’s going on and she yells, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy,” which is what MacDonald says he heard her say. I think she did say these things.

Jim Blackburn: Right at the entryway to the master bedroom are some drops of blood. Type A/B blood. It's Kimberley’s. She is struck by the club in the hallway.

Jim Blackburn: Right at the entryway to the master bedroom are some drops of blood. Type A/B blood. It's Kimberley’s. She is struck by the club in the hallway.

Jim Blackburn: He picks her up and carries her to her bed. And she’s tucked in.

Jim Blackburn: He picks her up and carries her to her bed. And she’s tucked in.

Jim Blackburn: Once he’s struck Kimberly, it’s gone. His career is gone, his family is gone. You cannot unring the bell no matter how hard you try.

Jim Blackburn: Once he’s struck Kimberly, it’s gone. His career is gone, his family is gone. You cannot unring the bell no matter how hard you try.

According to Blackburn, Jeff realizes what he’s done and what he has to do next…

According to Blackburn, Jeff realizes what he’s done and what he has to do next…

Jim Blackburn: Colette’s not dead. By some miracle, she is not dead. She gets up and struggles into the bedroom to save her youngest daughter.

Jim Blackburn: Colette’s not dead. By some miracle, she is not dead. She gets up and struggles into the bedroom to save her youngest daughter.

Blackburn says that Jeff chases his wife into Kristin’s room and attacks her with the club. Now, two year old Kristin is a witness to her mother's murder. And Jeff... has a terrible decision to make…

Blackburn says that Jeff chases his wife into Kristin’s room and attacks her with the club. Now, two year old Kristin is a witness to her mother's murder. And Jeff... has a terrible decision to make…

Jim Blackburn: He could have let Kristen live. It’s true he would have been criminally prosecuted and gone to prison in disgrace. But Kristin would have lived. He chose to kill Kristin to save himself.

Jim Blackburn: He could have let Kristen live. It’s true he would have been criminally prosecuted and gone to prison in disgrace. But Kristin would have lived. He chose to kill Kristin to save himself.

Jeff heads back to the master bedroom and pulls the sheet off the bed.

Jeff heads back to the master bedroom and pulls the sheet off the bed.

MacDonald puts his wife in a sheet and dumps her really on the floor on the master bedroom… over the threads that are there.

MacDonald puts his wife in a sheet and dumps her really on the floor on the master bedroom… over the threads that are there.

According to Blackburn, that’s why investigators found threads from Jeff’s pajama top underneath Collette’s body.

According to Blackburn, that’s why investigators found threads from Jeff’s pajama top underneath Collette’s body.

Jim Blackburn: There were 48 holes in MacDonald’s blue pajama top. How did those holes get there? He takes his pajama top off and puts it on her chest. Not to keep her warm as he said but to contaminate that piece of evidence as an explanation of why her blood’s on that pajama top.

Jim Blackburn: There were 48 holes in MacDonald’s blue pajama top. How did those holes get there? He takes his pajama top off and puts it on her chest. Not to keep her warm as he said but to contaminate that piece of evidence as an explanation of why her blood’s on that pajama top.

Jim Blackburn: And then stabs her through the pajama top.

Jim Blackburn: And then stabs her through the pajama top.

Now Jeff needs a cover story. Blackburn tells the jury that Jeff sees the Esquire Magazine in the living room. He picks it up leaving a bloody smudge. And inspired by the article describing the Manson murders, Jeff writes the word “pig” on the headboard.

Now Jeff needs a cover story. Blackburn tells the jury that Jeff sees the Esquire Magazine in the living room. He picks it up leaving a bloody smudge. And inspired by the article describing the Manson murders, Jeff writes the word “pig” on the headboard.

Finally, in the last moments before Jeff picked up the telephone to call for help, Blackburn says, he stood in front of a mirror in the bathroom with a scalpel blade.

Finally, in the last moments before Jeff picked up the telephone to call for help, Blackburn says, he stood in front of a mirror in the bathroom with a scalpel blade.

Jim Blackburn: His blood is found in the bathroom sink. Could Jeffrey MacDonald, being a doctor, insert a scalpel into his lung, and could he survive? Oh yes, he could.

Jim Blackburn: His blood is found in the bathroom sink. Could Jeffrey MacDonald, being a doctor, insert a scalpel into his lung, and could he survive? Oh yes, he could.

Jim Blackburn: That’s what I believe happened.

Jim Blackburn: That’s what I believe happened.

Jim Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen, I wish, more than you know, we weren’t here.

Jim Blackburn: Ladies and gentlemen, I wish, more than you know, we weren’t here.

Jim Blackburn (overlapping): I wish more than you know that I did not think the evidence pointed to the defendant. If our evidence is correct, and the defendant did it, which we believe he did.

Jim Blackburn (overlapping): I wish more than you know that I did not think the evidence pointed to the defendant. If our evidence is correct, and the defendant did it, which we believe he did.

Jim Blackburn: Think for a moment of the last minutes of Collette, Kimberly, and Kristen, when they realized that they were going to die, and they realized who it was that was going to make them die.

Jim Blackburn: Think for a moment of the last minutes of Collette, Kimberly, and Kristen, when they realized that they were going to die, and they realized who it was that was going to make them die.

Jim Blackburn: That’s when the jury cried. That summed up the whole thing.

Jim Blackburn: That’s when the jury cried. That summed up the whole thing.

Jim Blackburn: We believe strongly, as strongly as we don’t want to believe, that he did it and he’s guilty and I ask you to so find. Thank you.

Jim Blackburn: We believe strongly, as strongly as we don’t want to believe, that he did it and he’s guilty and I ask you to so find. Thank you.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Talking to Janet Malcolm years later, Joe McGinniss described how he felt waiting for the verdict.

Talking to Janet Malcolm years later, Joe McGinniss described how he felt waiting for the verdict.

Janet: Tell me about this nightmarish experience you had of realizing that this man was not a normal person and your growing conviction that he was guilty.

Janet: Tell me about this nightmarish experience you had of realizing that this man was not a normal person and your growing conviction that he was guilty.

Joe: I was so conflicted and torn... this person who you spent these weeks in close proximity to and actually found yourself fond of? Could he do this?

Joe: I was so conflicted and torn... this person who you spent these weeks in close proximity to and actually found yourself fond of? Could he do this?

Joe McGinniss: I'm sitting in a room with MacDonald and his lawyer, his secretary – and she's on the phone making reservations for him to go to dinner in New York the next night and he wants to come to this wilderness photography workshop that a friend of mine is running and all this stuff. But the jury is down the hall deciding whether or not he murdered his wife and daughters nine and a half years earlier.

Joe McGinniss: I'm sitting in a room with MacDonald and his lawyer, his secretary – and she's on the phone making reservations for him to go to dinner in New York the next night and he wants to come to this wilderness photography workshop that a friend of mine is running and all this stuff. But the jury is down the hall deciding whether or not he murdered his wife and daughters nine and a half years earlier.

Joe McGinniss: And then they actually come, and they have a verdict.

Joe McGinniss: And then they actually come, and they have a verdict.

Reporter Rick Thames was in the court that day.

Reporter Rick Thames was in the court that day.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

[SFX: Courtroom]

[SFX: Courtroom]

Rick Thames: People came back into that courtroom. I think they were all on the edge of their seat. They did not know what was about to happen.

Rick Thames: People came back into that courtroom. I think they were all on the edge of their seat. They did not know what was about to happen.

Rick Thames: They filed in. Some of the jurors looked very sad. I think a couple of the jurors were actually tearful.

Rick Thames: They filed in. Some of the jurors looked very sad. I think a couple of the jurors were actually tearful.

The jury read the first count, murder in the first degree against Colette MacDonald.

The jury read the first count, murder in the first degree against Colette MacDonald.

Rick Thames: And in unison, they said.

Rick Thames: And in unison, they said.

Jurors: Not guilty.

Jurors: Not guilty.

Rick Thames: I thought, he’s going free.

Rick Thames: I thought, he’s going free.

Rick Thames: But then, there was the second option. The second degree murder charge. In unison, they said...

Rick Thames: But then, there was the second option. The second degree murder charge. In unison, they said...

Jurors: Guilty.

Jurors: Guilty.

Thames: And that...was an amazing moment. There was a cry that went out somewhere in the area of the defense team, and I don’t know who it was.

Thames: And that...was an amazing moment. There was a cry that went out somewhere in the area of the defense team, and I don’t know who it was.

Count two, the murder of Kimberly MacDonald.

Count two, the murder of Kimberly MacDonald.

Jurors: Guilty in the second.

Jurors: Guilty in the second.

Count three, the murder of Kristen MacDonald.

Count three, the murder of Kristen MacDonald.

Jurors: Guilty in the first.

Jurors: Guilty in the first.

Rick Thames: The courtroom was stone silent. MacDonald gave a quizzical look to the jury like, “Did I just hear that?”

Rick Thames: The courtroom was stone silent. MacDonald gave a quizzical look to the jury like, “Did I just hear that?”

[GAVEL]

[GAVEL]

Rick Thames: And he was being led out in handcuffs in his three-piece suit.

Rick Thames: And he was being led out in handcuffs in his three-piece suit.

[POST]

[POST]

Reporter: A jury convicted Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald for murdering his wife and two children nine years ago. MacDonald, a former green beret captain, was sentenced to three life terms in prison.

Reporter: A jury convicted Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald for murdering his wife and two children nine years ago. MacDonald, a former green beret captain, was sentenced to three life terms in prison.

Nancy: Joe called up. He was actually tearful on the phone.

Nancy: Joe called up. He was actually tearful on the phone.

Joe McGinniss: You know, I felt terrible when he was convicted. Genuine sorrow.

Joe McGinniss: You know, I felt terrible when he was convicted. Genuine sorrow.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[CREDIT THEME]

[CREDIT THEME]

Next week on Morally Indefensible, Joe starts writing his book...And finds a way to get Jeff to tell him his darkest secrets...from prison.

Next week on Morally Indefensible, Joe starts writing his book...And finds a way to get Jeff to tell him his darkest secrets...from prison.

[THEME]

[THEME]

[CREDITS]

[CREDITS]

If you want to know more about Jeffrey MacDonald’s trial, the evidence against him and the mysterious Helena Stoeckley, tune into our docu series, A Wilderness of Error on FX and streaming on FX on Hulu.

If you want to know more about Jeffrey MacDonald’s trial, the evidence against him and the mysterious Helena Stoeckley, tune into our docu series, A Wilderness of Error on FX and streaming on FX on Hulu.

Morally Indefensible is a production of Truth Media in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment.

Morally Indefensible is a production of Truth Media in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment.

This episode of Morally Indefensible was produced by Ryan Sweikert with help from Jesse Rudoy, Julia Botero, Zach Hirsch, Kevin Shepherd and Danielle Elliot.

This episode of Morally Indefensible was produced by Ryan Sweikert with help from Jesse Rudoy, Julia Botero, Zach Hirsch, Kevin Shepherd and Danielle Elliot.

Story editing is by me, Marc Smerling, and Danielle Elliot.

Story editing is by me, Marc Smerling, and Danielle Elliot.

Alessandro Santoro is our associate producer. Our archive producer is Brennan Rees. Scott Curtis is our production manager.

Alessandro Santoro is our associate producer. Our archive producer is Brennan Rees. Scott Curtis is our production manager.

Fact checking by Amy Gaines.

Fact checking by Amy Gaines.

Kenny Kusiak did the music and mix. Sound design by Kenny Kusiak and Ryan Sweikert.

Kenny Kusiak did the music and mix. Sound design by Kenny Kusiak and Ryan Sweikert.

Additional Music by John Kusiak and Marmoset.

Additional Music by John Kusiak and Marmoset.

Our title track is “Promises” by the Monophonics.

Our title track is “Promises” by the Monophonics.

Voice reenactments by Logan Stearns, Jesse Rudoy, Ryan Sweikert, Emma Sweikert, and Walker Vreeland.

Voice reenactments by Logan Stearns, Jesse Rudoy, Ryan Sweikert, Emma Sweikert, and Walker Vreeland.

Legal review by Linda Steinman and Jack Browning of Davis Wright Tremaine.

Legal review by Linda Steinman and Jack Browning of Davis Wright Tremaine.

Special thanks to Sean Twigg, Mae Ryan, Luke Malone, Brian Murphy, Joe Langford, Peter Schmul, Diana Decillio, Bob Stevenson, Christina Masawicz, Bob Keeler, and Errol Morris.

Special thanks to Sean Twigg, Mae Ryan, Luke Malone, Brian Murphy, Joe Langford, Peter Schmul, Diana Decillio, Bob Stevenson, Christina Masawicz, Bob Keeler, and Errol Morris.

If you liked this episode of Morally Indefensible, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps. And thanks for listening.

If you liked this episode of Morally Indefensible, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps. And thanks for listening.