A Wilderness of Error

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Morally Indefensible Key Art

"As you can imagine, it is those very portions which are most difficult for you which turn out to be most valuable for me. As in therapy, the more it hurts, the more good it does. I appreciate you putting up with the pain."
- Joe McGinniss

Morally Indefensible

Chapter 3 | PEN PALS

Joe heads home to write his book about Jeff’s case while Jeff sits in prison serving three life sentences. But together, they figure out a way for Jeff to tell Joe his darkest secrets...
Joe heads home to write his book about Jeff’s case while Jeff sits in prison serving three life sentences. But together, they figure out a way for Jeff to tell Joe his darkest secrets...
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"As you can imagine, it is those very portions which are most difficult for you which turn out to be most valuable for me. As in therapy, the more it hurts, the more good it does. I appreciate you putting up with the pain."
- 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 3: PEN PALS

Throughout this episode of Morally Indefensible you’ll hear dramatic recreations of the correspondence between Joe McGinniss and Jeffrey MacDonald taken from letters and transcripts of tapes.

Throughout this episode of Morally Indefensible you’ll hear dramatic recreations of the correspondence between Joe McGinniss and Jeffrey MacDonald taken from letters and transcripts of tapes.

JOE: Dear Jeff, Every morning for a week now, I’ve been waking up wondering where you are.

JOE: Dear Jeff, Every morning for a week now, I’ve been waking up wondering where you are.

MUSIC IN

MUSIC IN

News: In Raleigh, North Carolina today a jury convicted Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald for murdering his wife and two children 9 years ago.

News: In Raleigh, North Carolina today a jury convicted Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald for murdering his wife and two children 9 years ago.

JOE: It is very hard to get used to on all levels. The sight of the jury coming in, of you standing, saying those few words — being led out — It’s a hell of a thing.

JOE: It is very hard to get used to on all levels. The sight of the jury coming in, of you standing, saying those few words — being led out — It’s a hell of a thing.

News: MacDonald, a former Green Beret Captain was sentenced to three life terms in prison.

News: MacDonald, a former Green Beret Captain was sentenced to three life terms in prison.

JOE: There cannot be a worse nightmare than the one you are living now — but it is only a phase. Total strangers can see within five minutes that you did not receive a fair trial. Jeff, it’s all so fucking awful, I can’t believe it yet.

JOE: There cannot be a worse nightmare than the one you are living now — but it is only a phase. Total strangers can see within five minutes that you did not receive a fair trial. Jeff, it’s all so fucking awful, I can’t believe it yet.

News: Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald is in this prison at Terminal Island, California. Whisked there after his conviction for murder.

News: Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald is in this prison at Terminal Island, California. Whisked there after his conviction for murder.

JOE: There is little I do these days which does not cause me to feel again some aspect of this shocking and tragic summer. It’s a damn good thing I’m writing a book, otherwise, I don’t know how I would cope with all these reactions.

JOE: There is little I do these days which does not cause me to feel again some aspect of this shocking and tragic summer. It’s a damn good thing I’m writing a book, otherwise, I don’t know how I would cope with all these reactions.

News: MacDonald, a respected and popular physician, still enjoys the support of friends who were shocked at the latest development.

News: MacDonald, a respected and popular physician, still enjoys the support of friends who were shocked at the latest development.

Joe: Spend a summer making a new friend and then the bastards come along and lock him up. But not for long, Jeffrey — not for long. More soon, Joe.

Joe: Spend a summer making a new friend and then the bastards come along and lock him up. But not for long, Jeffrey — not for long. More soon, Joe.

[THEME]

[THEME]

Mike Wallace: Jeffrey MacDonald was the best and the brightest, the one thought surest to succeed.

Mike Wallace: Jeffrey MacDonald was the best and the brightest, the one thought surest to succeed.

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

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

Buckley: Now will you welcome the author Mr. Joe McGinniss…

Buckley: Now will you welcome the author Mr. Joe McGinniss…

News: Author Joe McGinnis will be accompanying Jeffrey MacDonald to his murder trial to write an insider’s account of the case.

News: Author Joe McGinnis will be accompanying Jeffrey MacDonald to his murder trial to write an insider’s account of the case.

MacDonald: He acted as my best friend. Not just my friend, my best friend.

MacDonald: He acted as my best friend. Not just my friend, my best friend.

Thames: The whole country was watching this trial.

Thames: The whole country was watching this trial.

Jeff: There’s no evidence against me. This jury’s going to find me not guilty.

Jeff: There’s no evidence against me. This jury’s going to find me not guilty.

Thames: In unison, they said, “guilty”.

Thames: In unison, they said, “guilty”.

McGinnis: Living with him, this amiable human being, I felt terribly conflicted.

McGinnis: Living with him, this amiable human being, I felt terribly conflicted.

I’m Marc Smerling and this is Morally Indefensible.

I’m Marc Smerling and this is Morally Indefensible.

Chapter 3: Pen Pals

Chapter 3: Pen Pals

Several years after Jeffrey MacDonald was sent to prison for the murder of his pregnant wife and two young daughters, Joe McGinniss is sitting on his front porch in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He’s talking to Janet Malcolm, who is there to write about the relationship between Joe, the journalist and Jeff, the convicted murderer.

Several years after Jeffrey MacDonald was sent to prison for the murder of his pregnant wife and two young daughters, Joe McGinniss is sitting on his front porch in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He’s talking to Janet Malcolm, who is there to write about the relationship between Joe, the journalist and Jeff, the convicted murderer.

Joe: This was eating me up day and night. And all I can think about is this thing. Did he do it? Didn’t he do it? I’m still so torn up and upset by it.

Joe: This was eating me up day and night. And all I can think about is this thing. Did he do it? Didn’t he do it? I’m still so torn up and upset by it.

Joe’s talking about how he felt coming home from Jeff’s murder trial.

Joe’s talking about how he felt coming home from Jeff’s murder trial.

Joe: See, the prosecutor at the trial said, "If we can prove he did it, we don't have to prove he's the kind of guy who could have done it."

Joe: See, the prosecutor at the trial said, "If we can prove he did it, we don't have to prove he's the kind of guy who could have done it."

Joe: Well, for me –

Joe: Well, for me –

Janet: You had a different –

Janet: You had a different –

Joe: I had, sure, a whole different task. That's only the beginning for me. Now I gotta figure out, if he did it, how could he have? And who is he? He’s still my subject, there’s still more I need to know.

Joe: I had, sure, a whole different task. That's only the beginning for me. Now I gotta figure out, if he did it, how could he have? And who is he? He’s still my subject, there’s still more I need to know.

So, Joe started writing Jeff letters... like the ones you heard at the top of the show. Filled with encouragement and hope...

So, Joe started writing Jeff letters... like the ones you heard at the top of the show. Filled with encouragement and hope...

Janet: How many letters did you write him?

Janet: How many letters did you write him?

Joe: All together, I don’t know, maybe 30, 40.

Joe: All together, I don’t know, maybe 30, 40.

And Janet was very interested in these letters. Were they the musings of a journalist who’d simply gotten close to his subject, or a paper trail leading to an unholy and sinister betrayal?

And Janet was very interested in these letters. Were they the musings of a journalist who’d simply gotten close to his subject, or a paper trail leading to an unholy and sinister betrayal?

Janet Malcolm: Makes you never want to write a letter again, right?

Janet Malcolm: Makes you never want to write a letter again, right?

Joe McGinniss: Exactly.

Joe McGinniss: Exactly.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Nancy: The first week home I think was just exhaustion and kind of depression.

Nancy: The first week home I think was just exhaustion and kind of depression.

Joe’s widow, Nancy Doherty, remembers a very conflicted Joe walking in the door after the trial...

Joe’s widow, Nancy Doherty, remembers a very conflicted Joe walking in the door after the trial...

Nancy: It seemed almost inconceivable to him that this guy could have murdered his wife and two kids. He couldn’t imagine it.

Nancy: It seemed almost inconceivable to him that this guy could have murdered his wife and two kids. He couldn’t imagine it.

Marc: So there’s a (first) letter that Jeff wrote to Joe from prison. Do you remember that letter?

Marc: So there’s a (first) letter that Jeff wrote to Joe from prison. Do you remember that letter?

Nancy: Remind me.

Nancy: Remind me.

Jeff: Dear Joe, I'm not trying to be dramatic, but I can tell you that there's no feeling as deep as a feeling of suddenly being locked up in a solitary steel cell. Alone from the world. And being told that you're spending the rest of your natural life there. It's a feeling that must be very close to death. I hope that you understand the depth of my despair and anguish. Keep the writing going on your end, Jeff.

Jeff: Dear Joe, I'm not trying to be dramatic, but I can tell you that there's no feeling as deep as a feeling of suddenly being locked up in a solitary steel cell. Alone from the world. And being told that you're spending the rest of your natural life there. It's a feeling that must be very close to death. I hope that you understand the depth of my despair and anguish. Keep the writing going on your end, Jeff.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Nancy: I think that Joe struggled to figure out the best way to respond to Jeff’s dismay at the verdict. He was sorry that Jeff was in prison and that his friend was suffering. He hadn’t come to any sort of resolution about that yet. And he knew that he had a long way to go to write the book. So he needed information from Jeff so he had to just find some middle path to go down. And what do you say?

Nancy: I think that Joe struggled to figure out the best way to respond to Jeff’s dismay at the verdict. He was sorry that Jeff was in prison and that his friend was suffering. He hadn’t come to any sort of resolution about that yet. And he knew that he had a long way to go to write the book. So he needed information from Jeff so he had to just find some middle path to go down. And what do you say?

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

JOE: Goddamn Jeff, one of the worst things about all this is how suddenly and totally all of your friends--self-included--have been deprived of the pleasure of your company. What the fuck were those people thinking of? How could 12 people not only agree to believe such a horrendous proposition but agree, with a man’s life at stake, that they believed it beyond a reasonable doubt.

JOE: Goddamn Jeff, one of the worst things about all this is how suddenly and totally all of your friends--self-included--have been deprived of the pleasure of your company. What the fuck were those people thinking of? How could 12 people not only agree to believe such a horrendous proposition but agree, with a man’s life at stake, that they believed it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Joe needed to see Jeff. So he planned a trip to the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in Southern California.

Joe needed to see Jeff. So he planned a trip to the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in Southern California.

Joe: I’ll be out by the first week of November. It will be very good to see you again, to get this thing underway, to feel that I am doing something useful and constructive about it instead of just fretting about what a shit place prison must be and how absurd it seems to me that you are there. I would like very much for it to be the best book I’ve ever done and in order for that to happen, I’ll need a period of total immersion in all facets of your past - Joe

Joe: I’ll be out by the first week of November. It will be very good to see you again, to get this thing underway, to feel that I am doing something useful and constructive about it instead of just fretting about what a shit place prison must be and how absurd it seems to me that you are there. I would like very much for it to be the best book I’ve ever done and in order for that to happen, I’ll need a period of total immersion in all facets of your past - Joe

MUSIC OUT (SFX PRISON)

MUSIC OUT (SFX PRISON)

The prison was a stark collection of concrete buildings perched on a man-made square of landfill in the harbor off Long Beach, California. ... just a stone’s throw from Jeff's old life -- right near the hospital he’d worked at and just a twenty minute drive from his fancy, now vacant, waterfront condo.

The prison was a stark collection of concrete buildings perched on a man-made square of landfill in the harbor off Long Beach, California. ... just a stone’s throw from Jeff's old life -- right near the hospital he’d worked at and just a twenty minute drive from his fancy, now vacant, waterfront condo.

So, Jeff offered his condo to Joe for the week, and Joe was happy to stay there. Each morning, Joe would drive to Terminal Island to meet with Jeff during visiting hours.

So, Jeff offered his condo to Joe for the week, and Joe was happy to stay there. Each morning, Joe would drive to Terminal Island to meet with Jeff during visiting hours.

[PRISON DOOR BUZZ AND AMBIENCE]

[PRISON DOOR BUZZ AND AMBIENCE]

But their daily sessions were supervised, limited in time, and held in a grim prison visiting room where Joe had nothing but a pen and paper to jot down notes.

But their daily sessions were supervised, limited in time, and held in a grim prison visiting room where Joe had nothing but a pen and paper to jot down notes.

SCENE TAPE

SCENE TAPE

The environment wasn’t conducive to the kind of unfiltered emotional reflection Joe needed from Jeff in order to bring his book to life.

The environment wasn’t conducive to the kind of unfiltered emotional reflection Joe needed from Jeff in order to bring his book to life.

So they hatched a plan. Jeff would somehow finagle a tape recorder into his cell. Joe would send him questions and Jeff would speak his responses into the tape recorder and then mail Joe the audio cassettes.

So they hatched a plan. Jeff would somehow finagle a tape recorder into his cell. Joe would send him questions and Jeff would speak his responses into the tape recorder and then mail Joe the audio cassettes.

For Joe… the trip proved useful in another way. Here’s Nancy Doherty again.

For Joe… the trip proved useful in another way. Here’s Nancy Doherty again.

Nancy: When Joe went to Jeff’s condo, he found a lot of evidentiary material relating to his defense that had not come up at trial. Nobody knew about it so that was something that seemed really significant to Joe.

Nancy: When Joe went to Jeff’s condo, he found a lot of evidentiary material relating to his defense that had not come up at trial. Nobody knew about it so that was something that seemed really significant to Joe.

This was everything Jeff’s lawyers had collected over many years. Investigative files, case notes, testimony... it was all there. And Jeff said Joe could take it. Anything to help Joe write the book that would prove his innocence.

This was everything Jeff’s lawyers had collected over many years. Investigative files, case notes, testimony... it was all there. And Jeff said Joe could take it. Anything to help Joe write the book that would prove his innocence.

NANCY: And he just brought back suitcases full of testimony and so on.

NANCY: And he just brought back suitcases full of testimony and so on.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Nancy: And then it just began… Then the obsession began. And the obsession lasted a long time -- going over and over everything-- every detail.

Nancy: And then it just began… Then the obsession began. And the obsession lasted a long time -- going over and over everything-- every detail.

JOE: Dear Jeff,

JOE: Dear Jeff,

JOE: I will be immersed now in the files until further notice. Occasionally, I’ll bob to the surface long enough to write. Call collect if you get to a phone….

JOE: I will be immersed now in the files until further notice. Occasionally, I’ll bob to the surface long enough to write. Call collect if you get to a phone….

NANCY: It got incredibly tedious after a while because it was MacDonald 24/7 at our household.

NANCY: It got incredibly tedious after a while because it was MacDonald 24/7 at our household.

JOE: Sure would be nice to talk freely without the constraints of the Terminal Island visiting room….hope your tape recorder request was granted.

JOE: Sure would be nice to talk freely without the constraints of the Terminal Island visiting room….hope your tape recorder request was granted.

Nancy: And then we started getting the recordings and we listened to MacDonald talking to us.

Nancy: And then we started getting the recordings and we listened to MacDonald talking to us.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Jeff: Testing, testing, this is Jeff to Joe. Tape 1 Side 1

Jeff: Testing, testing, this is Jeff to Joe. Tape 1 Side 1

NANCY: Joe would write him a letter and say, “Tell me about this. Tell me about that.” Every week or so, Jeff would ship Joe a tape. I’d never met MacDonald, so it was a revelation to me to hear him, because he was so in love with himself.

NANCY: Joe would write him a letter and say, “Tell me about this. Tell me about that.” Every week or so, Jeff would ship Joe a tape. I’d never met MacDonald, so it was a revelation to me to hear him, because he was so in love with himself.

Jeff: If there is to be a new trial, first of all, we’d make me into this incredible god-hero, doctor healer, nice guy, football player, type person…

Jeff: If there is to be a new trial, first of all, we’d make me into this incredible god-hero, doctor healer, nice guy, football player, type person…

Nancy: They went on and on and on because Jeff didn’t have much to do and he loved to talk about himself.

Nancy: They went on and on and on because Jeff didn’t have much to do and he loved to talk about himself.

Jeff: My mother is also extremely bright, another extremely voracious reader. Not as fast a reader, I don’t think, as my father who was an unbelievably fast reader and t --

Jeff: My mother is also extremely bright, another extremely voracious reader. Not as fast a reader, I don’t think, as my father who was an unbelievably fast reader and t --

[TAPE DECK TURNS OFF]

[TAPE DECK TURNS OFF]

[typing]

[typing]

Joe: Dear Jeff; Got the first two tapes yesterday, listened to them last night. A good beginning / and I’m sure as you grow more relaxed and accustomed to the process you’ll find yourself able to go deeper. Just keep ‘em coming.

Joe: Dear Jeff; Got the first two tapes yesterday, listened to them last night. A good beginning / and I’m sure as you grow more relaxed and accustomed to the process you’ll find yourself able to go deeper. Just keep ‘em coming.

Joe: The more tapes you can manage over the next few weeks the better. Let yourself wander.

Joe: The more tapes you can manage over the next few weeks the better. Let yourself wander.

Joe: And remember…

Joe: And remember…

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Joe: ...you are talking to me and only me, and anything you say will be placed in the context of the overall book. So hang as loose as you can - Joe.

Joe: ...you are talking to me and only me, and anything you say will be placed in the context of the overall book. So hang as loose as you can - Joe.

JEFF: Tape, 6 Side 2, Jeff to Joe-- The first year at Princeton I was in absolute love with Colette-- without any question the neatest woman I had ever met. I looked forward to being an orthopedic surgeon. We’d have the farm, we’d have the horses, we’d have a boat, we had beautiful kids and the third on the way, there was a world out there that we could conquer.

JEFF: Tape, 6 Side 2, Jeff to Joe-- The first year at Princeton I was in absolute love with Colette-- without any question the neatest woman I had ever met. I looked forward to being an orthopedic surgeon. We’d have the farm, we’d have the horses, we’d have a boat, we had beautiful kids and the third on the way, there was a world out there that we could conquer.

JOE: Jeff... Jeff, your tendency, in recollecting, is to gloss over rough spots-- to idealize your past because your present is so fucked and your future is so uncertain. Jeff, I would do the same. Let's face it, early marriage is no picnic for anyone. It sure as hell wasn’t for me. Marrying at 21, having a child the next year and then another in another year .... I was thinking about my career and telling myself in terms of love and sex that there must be more to it than this.

JOE: Jeff... Jeff, your tendency, in recollecting, is to gloss over rough spots-- to idealize your past because your present is so fucked and your future is so uncertain. Jeff, I would do the same. Let's face it, early marriage is no picnic for anyone. It sure as hell wasn’t for me. Marrying at 21, having a child the next year and then another in another year .... I was thinking about my career and telling myself in terms of love and sex that there must be more to it than this.

JOE: Basically, I would like you to untighten your belt just a notch or two and risk a description of your life with Colette that might be more realistic than ideal. Don’t be bashful. I am the only one who hears these tapes - Joe.

JOE: Basically, I would like you to untighten your belt just a notch or two and risk a description of your life with Colette that might be more realistic than ideal. Don’t be bashful. I am the only one who hears these tapes - Joe.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

[birds chirping]

[birds chirping]

For Janet Malcolm, sitting with Joe on his porch in Williamstown, these letters may be evidence of Joe’s unholy and sinister betrayal of Jeff. But, Joe explains that it's just not that simple...

For Janet Malcolm, sitting with Joe on his porch in Williamstown, these letters may be evidence of Joe’s unholy and sinister betrayal of Jeff. But, Joe explains that it's just not that simple...

Joe McGinniss: Look, those letters are embarrassing. I wish I'd never written those letters because I'm embarrassed at how genuine the feeling in those letters is.

Joe McGinniss: Look, those letters are embarrassing. I wish I'd never written those letters because I'm embarrassed at how genuine the feeling in those letters is.

Joe: You can’t suspend all human feeling just because you decide you’re going to write about somebody.

Joe: You can’t suspend all human feeling just because you decide you’re going to write about somebody.

And Janet seems to understand.

And Janet seems to understand.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Janet: Yeah. Well, my experience is probably much like yours, that while this stage of things is going on, you're taking it in, you're staying as open as possible, and here you are with another human being.

Janet: Yeah. Well, my experience is probably much like yours, that while this stage of things is going on, you're taking it in, you're staying as open as possible, and here you are with another human being.

Joe McGinniss: Right.

Joe McGinniss: Right.

Janet: And only when you start writing it… does that more inhuman part of it take place.

Janet: And only when you start writing it… does that more inhuman part of it take place.

Joe McGinniss: That’s right.

Joe McGinniss: That’s right.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

-BREAK ONE -

-BREAK ONE -

Jeff: Jeff to Joe, Joe, I’m sure there’s part of me that’s been hiding the little bad things, you know, the things that could possibly be misinterpreted and maybe the full truth about the relationship, so I’m trying to talk about it now….

Jeff: Jeff to Joe, Joe, I’m sure there’s part of me that’s been hiding the little bad things, you know, the things that could possibly be misinterpreted and maybe the full truth about the relationship, so I’m trying to talk about it now….

For months, Joe McGinniss had been writing to Jeffrey MacDonald in prison, trying to get him to open up. Then finally, one day, Joe got this tape.

For months, Joe McGinniss had been writing to Jeffrey MacDonald in prison, trying to get him to open up. Then finally, one day, Joe got this tape.

Jeff: ….Umm, I think if there was a low point to the marriage, there’s no question it was the summer after our year at Princeton. I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve ever really said this-uhh-there was never any deep commitment or attachment to anyone else. I was avoiding my, you know, my family responsibilities.

Jeff: ….Umm, I think if there was a low point to the marriage, there’s no question it was the summer after our year at Princeton. I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve ever really said this-uhh-there was never any deep commitment or attachment to anyone else. I was avoiding my, you know, my family responsibilities.

Suddenly, it was like a faucet had been turned on. Tapes really began flowing, filled with the most intimate details of Jeffrey MacDonald’s past -- his marriage, his sex life, his broken dreams, and his anger...

Suddenly, it was like a faucet had been turned on. Tapes really began flowing, filled with the most intimate details of Jeffrey MacDonald’s past -- his marriage, his sex life, his broken dreams, and his anger...

Jeff: And I said, “Go fuck yourself.” I don’t think he ever used the words I thought he should have-- “Go fuck yourself”….

Jeff: And I said, “Go fuck yourself.” I don’t think he ever used the words I thought he should have-- “Go fuck yourself”….

Joe: Jeff: Good tapes. Very good tapes. That is what is known as biting the bullet (or cassette) and getting down to it. I know it is hard. But I need it; I need it now; and I am very pleased that you have been able to begin. As you can imagine, it is those very portions which are most difficult for you which turn out to be most valuable for me. As in therapy, the more it hurts, the more good it does. I appreciate you putting up with the pain.

Joe: Jeff: Good tapes. Very good tapes. That is what is known as biting the bullet (or cassette) and getting down to it. I know it is hard. But I need it; I need it now; and I am very pleased that you have been able to begin. As you can imagine, it is those very portions which are most difficult for you which turn out to be most valuable for me. As in therapy, the more it hurts, the more good it does. I appreciate you putting up with the pain.

Joe: As your reward, you will begin to receive, courtesy of Delacorte, a check in the mail every month…as long as I continue to produce they will pay the next two phases of my advance - Joe.

Joe: As your reward, you will begin to receive, courtesy of Delacorte, a check in the mail every month…as long as I continue to produce they will pay the next two phases of my advance - Joe.

MUSIC OUT

MUSIC OUT

Remember... Jeff and Joe signed a contract so the book could be written. That contract stipulated that Jeff would receive a share of the profits from Joe’s book, including a cut of the publisher’s advance. When Jeff finally started letting loose in the tapes, Joe said he would start letting loose with Jeff’s checks.

Remember... Jeff and Joe signed a contract so the book could be written. That contract stipulated that Jeff would receive a share of the profits from Joe’s book, including a cut of the publisher’s advance. When Jeff finally started letting loose in the tapes, Joe said he would start letting loose with Jeff’s checks.

News: Doctor MacDonald, you know why we’re here. What we want to talk to about today...

News: Doctor MacDonald, you know why we’re here. What we want to talk to about today...

Jeff used that money to pay a new team of lawyers.

Jeff used that money to pay a new team of lawyers.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

News: The constitution guarantees your right to a speedy trial.

News: The constitution guarantees your right to a speedy trial.

And those lawyers had filed an appeal-- claiming that the government had taken simply too long in bringing Jeffrey MacDonald before a judge.

And those lawyers had filed an appeal-- claiming that the government had taken simply too long in bringing Jeffrey MacDonald before a judge.

News: Do you think that was speedy?

News: Do you think that was speedy?

Jeff: No it certainly wasn’t. We were pressing all through the early 70’s for a resolution to the case.

Jeff: No it certainly wasn’t. We were pressing all through the early 70’s for a resolution to the case.

News: Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald insisted that his right to a speedy trial had been violated by repeated investigations and appeals that delayed his trial for 9 years.

News: Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald insisted that his right to a speedy trial had been violated by repeated investigations and appeals that delayed his trial for 9 years.

New: And the former Green Beret may be freed, at least until the next decision.

New: And the former Green Beret may be freed, at least until the next decision.

Jeff: Joe, I’ve just sort of been getting a whole sense of positive vibes about the appeal. I think that this is the stage now that they are gonna reverse this. This is what the appeals system was designed for -- rectify abuses of the system and if there’s ever been an abuse of the system, it’s certainly been the last ten years of my case.

Jeff: Joe, I’ve just sort of been getting a whole sense of positive vibes about the appeal. I think that this is the stage now that they are gonna reverse this. This is what the appeals system was designed for -- rectify abuses of the system and if there’s ever been an abuse of the system, it’s certainly been the last ten years of my case.

Joe: Dear Jeff, Well, I don’t have to convince you that you ought to be out -- but what do your lawyers say? Joe

Joe: Dear Jeff, Well, I don’t have to convince you that you ought to be out -- but what do your lawyers say? Joe

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Nancy: Jeffrey Macdonald called up and Joe wasn’t home so I talked to him on the phone. He was very happy to speak to me and meet me on the phone and I was very polite. I was holding a crying baby so I was able to cut the conversation short but it gave me chills to hear his voice. He’d been released from prison.

Nancy: Jeffrey Macdonald called up and Joe wasn’t home so I talked to him on the phone. He was very happy to speak to me and meet me on the phone and I was very polite. I was holding a crying baby so I was able to cut the conversation short but it gave me chills to hear his voice. He’d been released from prison.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Dan Rather: A federal appeals court today reversed the murder convictions of former Green Beret Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald in the slayings of his pregnant wife and two young daughters.

Dan Rather: A federal appeals court today reversed the murder convictions of former Green Beret Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald in the slayings of his pregnant wife and two young daughters.


"As you can imagine, it is those very portions which are most difficult for you which turn out to be most valuable for me. As in therapy, the more it hurts, the more good it does. I appreciate you putting up with the pain."
- Joe McGinniss

BREAK TWO

BREAK TWO

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

News: In a 2 to 1 opinion, a Federal Appeals court charged what it called “sheer bureaucratic indifference” violated MacDonald’s right to speedy trial.

News: In a 2 to 1 opinion, a Federal Appeals court charged what it called “sheer bureaucratic indifference” violated MacDonald’s right to speedy trial.

In August of 1980, Jeff re-entered society as a victim of America's lethargic justice system.

In August of 1980, Jeff re-entered society as a victim of America's lethargic justice system.

LK: So it then took 9 years to come to trial?

LK: So it then took 9 years to come to trial?

Jeff: Years! To me it’s inconceivable. I was so distraught I could barely function.

Jeff: Years! To me it’s inconceivable. I was so distraught I could barely function.

Jeff quickly managed to piece his life back together.

Jeff quickly managed to piece his life back together.

Jeff: And we’ll need lab here for a barb level and a CBC and a 660.

Jeff: And we’ll need lab here for a barb level and a CBC and a 660.

Jeff: I’m an emergency physician and I practice medicine at St Mary’s Medical Center.

Jeff: I’m an emergency physician and I practice medicine at St Mary’s Medical Center.

Jeff returned to his old life, his old job and his beachside condo. Meanwhile, Joe was studying Jeff’s old life in the evidence from those file boxes he’d taken from that condo. And he was listening to the recordings Jeff had sent him from prison...

Jeff returned to his old life, his old job and his beachside condo. Meanwhile, Joe was studying Jeff’s old life in the evidence from those file boxes he’d taken from that condo. And he was listening to the recordings Jeff had sent him from prison...

MUSIC OUT

MUSIC OUT

Nancy: For Joe, As he listened to those tapes, I think it gave him more distance from the Jeff that he felt close to.

Nancy: For Joe, As he listened to those tapes, I think it gave him more distance from the Jeff that he felt close to.

Here’s Nancy Doherty again.

Here’s Nancy Doherty again.

Nancy: Jeff was out of prison and Joe did not celebrate with him. Jeff does not confront him, and Joe does not reassure him – nobody says anything.

Nancy: Jeff was out of prison and Joe did not celebrate with him. Jeff does not confront him, and Joe does not reassure him – nobody says anything.

Nancy: There were hints that all was not well -- there were rumblings.

Nancy: There were hints that all was not well -- there were rumblings.

...rumblings of Joe having a change of heart… But Jeff was busy rebuilding his life, that is, until this happened...

...rumblings of Joe having a change of heart… But Jeff was busy rebuilding his life, that is, until this happened...

MUSIC IN

MUSIC IN

News: The Supreme Court today reinstated the conviction of Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Green Beret army doctor, for killing his wife and two daughters.

News: The Supreme Court today reinstated the conviction of Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Green Beret army doctor, for killing his wife and two daughters.

Prosecutors had been working around the clock to appeal the speedy trial ruling that set Jeff free. And after just 19 months of freedom, the Supreme Court reinstated Jeff’s conviction.

Prosecutors had been working around the clock to appeal the speedy trial ruling that set Jeff free. And after just 19 months of freedom, the Supreme Court reinstated Jeff’s conviction.

News: Shortly after this decision was handed down, MacDonald was taken from his Huntington Beach home to the federal prison in nearby Terminal Island. But the saga of Jeffrey MacDonald probably isn’t over just yet.

News: Shortly after this decision was handed down, MacDonald was taken from his Huntington Beach home to the federal prison in nearby Terminal Island. But the saga of Jeffrey MacDonald probably isn’t over just yet.

There was still hope, if Jeff could prove that he was innocent. Jeff hired a private investigator to look for new evidence that would prove that someone else had murdered his family. Meanwhile, Joe was finishing the book, and Jeff was very eager to read it.

There was still hope, if Jeff could prove that he was innocent. Jeff hired a private investigator to look for new evidence that would prove that someone else had murdered his family. Meanwhile, Joe was finishing the book, and Jeff was very eager to read it.

Jeff: Joe,

Jeff: Joe,

Jeff: Has anyone actually seen your work yet besides the editor? Have you finalized the various segments of the book? I mean what the hell is the end going to be if a new trial is ordered?

Jeff: Has anyone actually seen your work yet besides the editor? Have you finalized the various segments of the book? I mean what the hell is the end going to be if a new trial is ordered?

Jeff: I’m sad, angry, scared. They’ll throw away the key unless I win soon.

Jeff: I’m sad, angry, scared. They’ll throw away the key unless I win soon.

Jeff: P.S. A lawyer was totally aghast that I had no “artistic” control over the book. I hope I’m not naive and that I have no reason to be aghast at my lack of artistic control. I figure that...can’t be all that bad.

Jeff: P.S. A lawyer was totally aghast that I had no “artistic” control over the book. I hope I’m not naive and that I have no reason to be aghast at my lack of artistic control. I figure that...can’t be all that bad.

Joe: Dear Jeff, What lawyers know about artistic control is what I know about thoracic surgery.

Joe: Dear Jeff, What lawyers know about artistic control is what I know about thoracic surgery.

Joe: Your complete cooperation and your full granting of all “artistic” rights are all that persuaded me, for the first time in my career, to embark on a project where someone else received income for work I did. All you have ever wanted, you’ve said repeatedly, was for the full and true story to be told and that is what I have attempted to do for almost three years now (which seem like ten).

Joe: Your complete cooperation and your full granting of all “artistic” rights are all that persuaded me, for the first time in my career, to embark on a project where someone else received income for work I did. All you have ever wanted, you’ve said repeatedly, was for the full and true story to be told and that is what I have attempted to do for almost three years now (which seem like ten).

Joe: Meanwhile, stress levels reach all time high as I sit here -- absolutely fucking penniless but with a nearly-complete book--

Joe: Meanwhile, stress levels reach all time high as I sit here -- absolutely fucking penniless but with a nearly-complete book--

Joe: My commitment to integrity is absolute. The time for any and all discussion of the book’s contents--either public or private--is when the book has been published and is available to readers.

Joe: My commitment to integrity is absolute. The time for any and all discussion of the book’s contents--either public or private--is when the book has been published and is available to readers.

Joe: Keep in touch, Joe

Joe: Keep in touch, Joe

Jeff: Joe - I need to see a copy of the book as soon as humanly possible. I can’t for the life of me understand the arrogance (and in fact hypocrisy) in the stance that I’m like the general public in this case. It was one thing not to have control over the book/content/you - I granted you that, and have lived with it. But to coyly play games, is not right. You should not deny me the right to read a copy of the book when your revisions are complete. I need to see the book. I would appreciate hearing back from you on this as soon as you can do it - I need to see the book.

Jeff: Joe - I need to see a copy of the book as soon as humanly possible. I can’t for the life of me understand the arrogance (and in fact hypocrisy) in the stance that I’m like the general public in this case. It was one thing not to have control over the book/content/you - I granted you that, and have lived with it. But to coyly play games, is not right. You should not deny me the right to read a copy of the book when your revisions are complete. I need to see the book. I would appreciate hearing back from you on this as soon as you can do it - I need to see the book.

Joe: Jeff: For not the first time but I hope for the last time: you will be sent a copy of the book when there is a copy of the book to send. At no time was there ever any understanding that you would be given an advance look at the book six months prior to publication. I find it bizarre to even have to discuss this with you, and I hope that will be the end of it

Joe: Jeff: For not the first time but I hope for the last time: you will be sent a copy of the book when there is a copy of the book to send. At no time was there ever any understanding that you would be given an advance look at the book six months prior to publication. I find it bizarre to even have to discuss this with you, and I hope that will be the end of it

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Joe: Joe.

Joe: Joe.

Jeff: Joe …I feel I must comment on your apparent exasperation with my questions and feelings about reading the book.

Jeff: Joe …I feel I must comment on your apparent exasperation with my questions and feelings about reading the book.

[MUSIC IN]

[MUSIC IN]

Jeff: I’d like to point out that our current conditions are remarkably different. Your worries are normal. You are successful, live well, and already have a contract for your next book... I’m worried because. I’m worried...I won’t win the case again..I’m worried that I’ll never get to be with normal people again...other than that I have no other major worries. Except that the guy who is writing a book when I met him was funny, warm, and easy to talk to, that all disappeared and it has never resurfaced. It all seems very strange from here. Certainly, in your worst moments, others gave you a little leeway. A tired, worn out, but still determined to live a life -- Jeff

Jeff: I’d like to point out that our current conditions are remarkably different. Your worries are normal. You are successful, live well, and already have a contract for your next book... I’m worried because. I’m worried...I won’t win the case again..I’m worried that I’ll never get to be with normal people again...other than that I have no other major worries. Except that the guy who is writing a book when I met him was funny, warm, and easy to talk to, that all disappeared and it has never resurfaced. It all seems very strange from here. Certainly, in your worst moments, others gave you a little leeway. A tired, worn out, but still determined to live a life -- Jeff

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC OUT]

Soon after this letter, a newly excited... and energized Jeff left a coded message on Joe’s answering machine.

Soon after this letter, a newly excited... and energized Jeff left a coded message on Joe’s answering machine.

MUSIC IN

MUSIC IN

Joe: Dear Jeff, However encoded your telephone message was, I got the gist.// If all goes according to plan, I assume you will be in court prior to publication of the book, and the fact that big new things are still happening is just one more reason for my insistence that nobody see this thing in advance. - Joe

Joe: Dear Jeff, However encoded your telephone message was, I got the gist.// If all goes according to plan, I assume you will be in court prior to publication of the book, and the fact that big new things are still happening is just one more reason for my insistence that nobody see this thing in advance. - Joe

What did Jeff’s private investigator find?

What did Jeff’s private investigator find?

Brian O’Neill (on NBC): There are pending in the federal court of North Carolina several motions seeking a new trial. Those motions in great detail prove who did it. And it wasn’t Dr. MacDonald.

Brian O’Neill (on NBC): There are pending in the federal court of North Carolina several motions seeking a new trial. Those motions in great detail prove who did it. And it wasn’t Dr. MacDonald.

[THEME]

[THEME]

That’s next time, on Morally Indefensible…

That’s next time, on Morally Indefensible…

[CREDITS]

[CREDITS]

If you want to know more about the MacDonald murders, tune into our docu series, A Wilderness of Error on FX and streaming on FX on Hulu.

If you want to know more about the MacDonald murders, 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 Jesse Rudoy with help from Ryan Sweikert, Julia Botero, Zach Hirsch, Kevin Shepherd and Danielle Elliot.

This episode of Morally Indefensible was produced by Jesse Rudoy with help from Ryan Sweikert, 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 Jesse Rudoy.

Kenny Kusiak did the music and mix. Sound design by Kenny Kusiak, and Jesse Rudoy.

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 and Jesse Rudoy.

Voice reenactments by Logan Stearns and Jesse Rudoy.

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’d like to continue the conversation online, find us on Instagram and Facebook @morallyindefensible and Twitter @morallyindef

If you’d like to continue the conversation online, find us on Instagram and Facebook @morallyindefensible and Twitter @morallyindef

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.