MacDonald was born in Jamaica, Queens, New York City, the second of three children of Robert MacDonald, known as "Mac," and his wife, Dorothy (née Perry). Raised on Long Island, he attended Patchogue High School, where he was voted both "most popular" and "most likely to succeed," and he was Senior Class President and captain of the football team. His grades were high enough for him to win a scholarship to Princeton University. While there, he resumed a romantic relationship with Colette Kathryn Stevenson, his high school sweetheart. On September 14, 1963, upon learning she was pregnant with his child, they married. Their daughter, Kimberly, was born on April 18, 1964.
After attending Princeton for three years, MacDonald and his family moved to Chicago in 1964, where he was accepted to Northwestern University Medical School. Their second child, Kristen, was born on May 8, 1967. The following year, upon his graduation from medical school, he completed an internship at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. He joined the Army on July 1, 1969 and the entire family moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he held the rank of Captain. He was assigned to the Green Berets as a Group Surgeon to the 3rd Special Forces Group in September 1969.
At 3:42 a.m. on February 17, 1970, dispatchers at Fort Bragg received an emergency phone call from MacDonald, who reported a "stabbing." Four responding military police officers arrived at his house located at 544 Castle Drive, initially believing that they were being called to settle a domestic disturbance. They found the front door closed and locked and the house dark inside. When no one answered the door, they circled to the back of the house, where they found the back screen door closed and unlocked but the back door wide open. Upon entering, they found Jeffrey's wife Colette and his daughters Kimberly and Kristen dead in their respective bedrooms.
Five-year-old Kimberly was found in her bed, having been clubbed in the head and stabbed in the neck with a knife between eight and ten times. Two-year-old Kristen was found in her own bed; she had been stabbed 33 times with a knife and 15 times with an ice pick. Colette, who was pregnant with her third child and first son, was lying on the floor of her bedroom. She had been repeatedly clubbed (both her arms were broken) and stabbed 21 times with an ice pick and 16 times with a knife. MacDonald's torn pajama top was draped upon her chest. On the headboard of her bed, the word "pig" was written in blood.
MacDonald was found next to his wife alive but wounded. His wounds were not as severe nor as numerous as those his family had suffered. He was immediately taken to nearby Womack Hospital. MacDonald suffered cuts and bruises on his face and chest, along with a mild concussion. He also had a stab wound on his left torso in what a staff surgeon referred to as a "clean, small, sharp" incision that caused his left lung to partially collapse. He was treated at Womack Hospital and released after one week.
MacDonald told investigators that on the evening of February 16, he had fallen asleep on the living room couch. He told investigators that he did so because Kristen had been in bed with Colette and had wet his side of it. He was later awakened by Colette and Kimberly's screams. As he rose from the couch to go to their aid, he was attacked by three male intruders, one black and two white. A fourth intruder, described as a white female with long blonde hair and wearing high heeled boots and a white floppy hat partially covering her face, stood nearby with a lighted candle and chanted, "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs." The three males attacked him with a club and ice pick. During the struggle, he claimed that his pajama top was pulled over his head to his wrists and he then used it to ward off thrusts from the ice pick. Eventually, he stated that he was overcome by his assailants and was knocked unconscious in the living room end of the hallway leading to the bedrooms.
The army's Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) did not believe MacDonald's version of events. Also, as U.S. Army investigators studied the physical evidence, they found that it did not seem to support the story told by MacDonald. The living room, where MacDonald had supposedly fought for his life against three armed assailants, showed little signs of a struggle apart from an overturned coffee table and knocked over flower plant. In addition to the lack of damage to the inside of the house, fibers from MacDonald's torn pajama top were not found in the living room, where he claimed it was torn. Instead, fibers from the pajama top were found under Colette's body and in both Kimberly and Kristen's bedrooms. One fiber was found under Kristen's fingernail. The murder weapons were found outside the back door. They were a kitchen knife, an ice pick, and a 3-foot long piece of lumber; all three were determined to have come from the MacDonald house. The tips of surgical gloves were found beneath the headboard where "pig" was written in blood; they were identical in composition to a supply MacDonald kept in the kitchen.
The MacDonald family all had different blood types — a statistical anomaly that was used to theorize what had happened in their house. Starting with the assumption that they were the only four people bleeding in there, investigators theorized that a fight began in the master bedroom between MacDonald and Colette, who possibly argued over Kristen wetting his side of the bed while sleeping there. Investigators speculated that the argument turned physical as she probably hit him on the forehead with a hairbrush, which resulted in his head wound concussion. As he retaliated by hitting her, first with his fists and then beating her with a piece of lumber, Kimberly, whose blood and brain serum was found in the doorway, may have walked in after hearing the commotion and was struck at least once on the head, possibly by accident. Believing Colette dead, MacDonald carried the mortally wounded Kimberly back to her bedroom. After stabbing her (whose blood was discovered on his pajama top which he said he had not been wearing while in her room), he went to Kristen's room, intent on disposing of the last remaining potential witness. Before he could do so, Colette, whose blood was found on Kristen's bed covers and on one wall of the room, apparently regained consciousness, stumbled in, and threw herself over Kristen. After killing both of them, he wrapped Colette's body in a sheet and carried it back to the master bedroom, leaving a smudged footprint of her blood on his way out of Kristen's room.
C.I.D. investigators then theorized that MacDonald attempted to cover up the murders, using articles on the Manson Family murders that he'd found in an issue of Esquire in the living room. Putting on surgical gloves from a medical supply in the hallway closet, he went to the master bedroom, where he used Colette's blood to write "pig" on the headboard. He laid his torn pajama top over her dead body and repeatedly stabbed her in the chest with an ice pick. He then took a scalpel blade from the supply closet, went to the adjacent bathroom, and stabbed himself once. Finally, he used the telephone to summon an ambulance, discarded the weapons out the back door, disposed of the surgical gloves and scalpel blade, and lay by Colette's body while he waited for the military police to arrive.
On April 6, 1970, Army investigators interrogated MacDonald. Less than a month later, on May 1, the Army formally charged him with the murder of his family.
An initial Army Article 32 hearing into MacDonald's possible guilt, overseen by Colonel Warren Rock, convened on July 5, 1970 and ran through September. He was represented by Bernard L. Segal, a civilian defense attorney from Philadelphia. Segal's defense concentrated on the poor quality of the C.I.D. investigation and the existence of other suspects, specifically a woman named Helena Stoeckley.
Segal presented evidence that the C.I.D. had not properly managed the crime scene and lost several items of critical evidence, including the four torn tips of rubber surgical gloves found in the master bedroom, and a single layer of skin found under one of Colette's fingernails. In addition, he claimed to have located Helena Stoeckley, the woman whom MacDonald claimed to have seen in his apartment during the murders. Stoeckley was a well-known drug user in the area who was known to socialize frequently with other heavy drug users, including Army veteran Greg Mitchell, her some-time boyfriend. Witnesses claimed that Stoeckley had admitted involvement in the crimes, and several remembered her wearing clothing similar to what MacDonald had described.
On October 13, 1970, Colonel Rock issued a report recommending that charges be dismissed against MacDonald because they were "not true," and he recommended that civilian authorities investigate Stoeckley. In December, MacDonald received an honorable discharge from the Army and returned to New York City.
After the Article 32 hearing MacDonald returned to work as a doctor, briefly in New York City and then in Long Beach, California in July 1971, where he was an emergency room physician at the St. Mary Medical Center. He also made media appearances, most notably on the December 15, 1970 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, during which he made jokes and complained about the investigation and its focus on him as a suspect.
During this time Freddie Kassab, MacDonald's stepfather-in-law, turned against him. Initially, he was one of his supporters and testified in support of his innocence during the Article 32 hearing; however, his support lessened after MacDonald's appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. Kassab's support continued to erode after MacDonald refused to provide him with a transcript of the Article 32 hearing. MacDonald also made contradictory and at times outlandish claims; in one instance in November 1970, MacDonald told Kassab that he and some Army friends had actually tracked down, tortured, and eventually murdered one of the alleged killers of his family, but refused to provide details about who the person was or what he might have told MacDonald. He later claimed that it was a lie to try to put to rest Kassab's persistence about finding his stepdaughter's killers.
Once Kassab finally received a copy of the Article 32 hearing transcript (after lengthy evasions by MacDonald), he noted numerous inconsistencies in MacDonald's testimony. One example was his assertion that he had sustained near-life-threatening injuries during the alleged assault on him; Kassab saw him in the hospital less than 18 hours after the attack and found him sitting up in bed, eating a meal, and with very little in the way of bandages or dressing.
In March 1971, in company with U.S. Army investigators, Kassab visited the crime scene for several hours in order to test the physical evidence against MacDonald's testimony. His work convinced him that MacDonald himself had committed the crimes. Since the Army's investigation was completed, the only way that Kassab could bring him to trial was via a citizen's complaint through the Justice Department. He filed the citizen's complaint in early 1972, but it was held in limbo because the three murders happened while MacDonald was serving in the U.S. Army, and since he was no longer with the Army, the citizen's complaint was declared moot.
Between 1972 and 1974, the case remained trapped in limbo within the files of the Justice Department as they struggled over whether or not to prosecute. On April 30, 1974, after much persistence in pursuing the prosecution of MacDonald, Freddie and Mildred Kassab, aided by Peter Kearns, and the Kassabs' attorney Richard C. Cahn of Huntington, New York, presented a citizen's criminal complaint against MacDonald to U.S. Chief District Court Judge Algernon Butler, requesting the convening of a grand jury to indict him for the murders. As a result of the complaint, a grand jury was convened on August 12, 1974. Justice Department attorney Victor Worheide presented the case to the grand jury, and U.S. District Judge Franklin Dupree was assigned to oversee the hearing.
A grand jury in North Carolina indicted MacDonald on January 24, 1975, and within the hour he was arrested in California. On January 31, 1975, he was freed on $100,000 bail pending disposition of the charges. On May 23, 1975, he was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the murders. On July 29, 1975, District Judge Franklin T. Dupree, Jr. denied his double jeopardy and speedy trial arguments and allowed the trial date of August 18, 1975 to stand. On August 15, 1975, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the trial and on January 23, 1976, a panel of that court, in a 2–1 split, ordered the indictment dismissed on speedy trial grounds. An appeal on behalf of the Government led to an 8–0 reinstatement of the indictment by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 1, 1978. On October 22, 1978, the Fourth Circuit rejected MacDonald's double jeopardy arguments and, on March 19, 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review that decision.
The murder trial began on July 16, 1979 in the Federal courthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although MacDonald’s lawyers, Bernard Segal and Wade Smith, were confident of an acquittal from the first day, one thing after another went badly for the defense. It began when Dupree refused a defense request to admit into evidence a psychiatric evaluation of MacDonald, which suggested that someone of his personality type was unable to kill his family. Dupree explained that since no insanity plea had been entered for MacDonald, he did not want the trial bogged down by contradictory psychiatric testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses.
During the first day of the trial, Dupree allowed the prosecution to admit into evidence the 1970 copy of Esquire Magazine, found in the MacDonald house, part of which contained the lengthy article of the Manson Family murders in August 1969. Prosecutors James Blackburn and Brian Murtagh wanted to introduce the magazine and suggest that this is where MacDonald got the idea of blaming a hippie gang for the murders.
The prosecution called FBI lab technician and analyst Paul Stombaugh who testified that MacDonald’s pajama top had 48 small, smooth, and cylindrical ice pick holes through it. In order for this to have happened, it would have to remain stationary, an unlikely occurrence if he had wrapped it around his hands to defend himself from the blows from an attacker wielding the ice pick. Also, by folding it one particular way, Stombaugh demonstrated how all 48 holes could have been made by 21 thrusts of the ice pick, the same number of times that Colette had been stabbed with it and in an identical pattern, implying that she had been repeatedly stabbed through the pajama top while it was lying on her. Prosecutors Murtagh and Blackburn staged an impromptu re-enactment of the alleged attack on MacDonald. Murtagh wrapped a pajama top around his hands and tried to fend off a series of blows that Blackburn was inflicting on him with a similar ice pick. The prosecution made two points with the demonstration. First, the ice pick holes in the pajama top were jagged and torn, not smoothly cylindrical like the ones in MacDonald’s. Also, Murtagh received a small wound on his left hand. When MacDonald had been examined at Womack Hospital, he had no defensive wounds on his arms or hands consistent with a struggle. The implication was obvious and highly damaging to the defense.
Another piece of damaging evidence against MacDonald was an audio tape made of the April 6, 1970 interview by military investigators. Listening to this tape, the jury heard his matter-of-fact, indifferent recitation of the murders. They heard him become angry, defensive, and emotional in response to suggestions by the investigators that he had committed the murders. He asked the investigators why would they think he, who had a beautiful family and everything going for him, could have murdered his family in cold blood for no reason. The jury also heard the investigators confront him with their knowledge of his extramarital affairs, to which MacDonald calmly responded, "Oh... you guys are more thorough than I thought."
Despite the evidence, the prosecution was hampered by the lack of motive for MacDonald to have committed the murders, since he had no history of violence or domestic abuse with his wife or children. Since Dupree refused both the defense and prosecution requests for any psychiatric evaluation to be done for him, he also refused the prosecution's request to allow into evidence any part of the Article 32 transcripts from his 1970 U.S. Army hearing. Dupree ruled that since the current trial was a civilian trial and the Article 32 military hearing had several reports from the military investigators, which claimed that he may have murdered his family in a drug-induced rage, it was considered biased and hearsay.
During the defense stage of the trial, Segal called Helena Stoeckley to the witness stand, intent on extracting a confession from her that she had been one of the intruders MacDonald claimed had entered his house, murdered them, and attacked him. During the nine years after the murders had been committed, she had made several contradictory statements regarding them, sometimes saying she was present when the murders happened, other times stating she had no recollection of her whereabouts the evening of them. Just prior to her testimony, separate interviews had been conducted by the defense and the prosecution, during which she denied ever being in the MacDonald house or ever seeing him before that very day in court. Afterwards, Segal argued for the introduction of testimony from other witnesses to whom Stoeckley had confessed. Dupree refused, in the absence of any evidence to connect Stoeckley to the scene, citing her history of long-term drug abuse.
MacDonald's defense called forensic expert James Thornton to the stand. He unsuccessfully tried to rebut the government's contention that the pajama top was stationary on Colette's chest, rather than wrapped around MacDonald's wrists as he warded off blows, by conducting an experiment wherein a similar one was placed over a ham, moved back and forth on a sled, and stabbed at with an ice pick. The defense also called several character witnesses. MacDonald took the witness stand as the last defense witness. Under Segal’s direct examination, MacDonald denied committing the murders. When Blackburn cross-examined him, however, MacDonald could offer no explanation against the evidence.
On August 29, 1979, MacDonald was convicted of one count of first-degree murder in the death of Kristen and two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Colette and Kimberly after the jury deliberated for just over six hours. Dupree immediately gave him a life sentence for each of the murders, to be served consecutively. He also revoked his bail. Soon after the verdict, he appealed Dupree's bail revocation ruling, asking that bail be granted pending the outcome of his appeal. On September 7, 1979, this application was rejected, and an appeal on bail was further rejected by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on November 20, 1979.
In June 1979, MacDonald invited author Joe McGinniss to write a book about the case. McGinniss was given full access to him and the defense during the trial. He expected that the book would be about his innocence in the murders of his family. However, McGinniss' book, Fatal Vision, first published in the spring of 1983, portrayed him as "a narcissistic sociopath" who was indeed guilty of killing his family. It contains excerpts from court transcripts and sections entitled "The Voice of Jeffrey MacDonald," which were based on tape recordings he made following his conviction.
MacDonald subsequently sued McGinniss in 1987 for fraud, claiming that McGinniss pretended to believe him innocent after he came to the conclusion that he was guilty, in order that he continue cooperating with him. After a trial, which resulted in a mistrial on August 21, 1987, they settled out of court for $325,000 on November 23, 1987.
The Journalist and the Murderer, written by Janet Malcolm and published in 1990, is about the relationship between journalists and their subjects and explores the relationship between McGinniss and MacDonald as the subject of Malcolm's thesis that "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."
Malcolm maintained that McGinniss tricked MacDonald—a claim that McGinniss subsequently responded to in the epilogue of a later edition of Fatal Vision. In a 2012 book, A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, filmmaker and writer Errol Morris argued that many of McGinniss' claims about MacDonald are untrue and irresponsible.
McGinniss' book was adapted into a made-for-TV film of the same title starring Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Andy Griffith, and Gary Cole as MacDonald. It aired on NBC in 1984.
An adaptation of McGinniss' book is expected to air in 2017 on Investigation Discovery, starring Scott Foley as Jeffrey MacDonald and Dave Annable as McGinniss.
MacDonald's murders are discussed in the Jodi Picoult novel House Rules. Addison released a song about the crime entitled "Dr. Jeffrey" on his "Time B4 Time" CD.
On July 29, 1980, a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed MacDonald's conviction in a 2–1 split on the grounds that the nine-year delay in bringing him to trial violated his Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial. On August 22, 1980, he was freed on $100,000 bail. He subsequently returned to work at St. Mary's Medical Center in Long Beach, California, as the Director of Emergency Medicine.
On December 18, 1980, the Fourth Circuit Court split 5–5 to hear the case en banc and thus the earlier decision stood. On May 26, 1981, the United States Supreme Court accepted the case for consideration and on December 7, 1981, heard oral arguments. On March 31, 1982, they ruled 6–3 that MacDonald's rights to a speedy trial had not been violated. He was rearrested and returned to Federal prison and his original sentence of three consecutive life terms was reinstated with time already served since his 1979 conviction. Defense lawyers filed a new motion for MacDonald to be freed on bail pending appeal, but the Fourth Circuit refused. His remaining points of appeal were heard on June 9, 1982 and his conviction was unanimously affirmed on August 16, 1982. A further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was refused on January 10, 1983. It was shortly after this that MacDonald's licenses to practice medicine in both North Carolina and California were revoked.
On January 14, 1983, Helena Stoeckley, aged 32, was found dead in her small apartment. She had apparently been dead for several days, and an autopsy revealed that she died of pneumonia and cirrhosis.
On March 1, 1985, Dupree rejected all defense motions for a new trial. Lawyers for MacDonald appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Dupree's ruling on December 17, 1985 and refused to reopen the case. On October 6, 1986 the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision.
On March 27, 1991, MacDonald became eligible for parole, but he did not apply, continuing to vehemently maintain his innocence.
On July 8, 1991, Dupree, after hearing arguments that MacDonald should be granted a new murder trial on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, denied the petition. On October 3, 1991, his defense counsel appealed Dupree's ruling on the grounds of judicial bias due to his rulings in favor of the prosecution during the trial, and of the harshness of his prison sentence that Dupree imposed. The appeal was denied.
On June 2, 1992, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a new trial for MacDonald. They stated that the materials now introduced should have been presented by MacDonald's then-lawyer, Brian O'Neill, in the 1984-85 appeal. Therefore, all rights to further appeals were forfeited. The ruling was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on November 30 of that same year.
Dupree died after a short illness on December 17, 1995. MacDonald's former in-laws, Colette's mother, Mildred, and stepfather, Freddie Kassab, who brought his case to the Justice Department, both died in 1994; she on January 19 and he on October 24.
The courts ruled that Dupree had acted correctly when he refused to let the jury see a transcript of the 1970 Article 32 military hearing, and, because this was not an insanity trial, he had also acted properly in not allowing the jurors to hear any of the psychiatric testimony. Had he done so, the jurors would have learned that none of the doctors hired by the defense, or who worked for the Army or government at Walter Reed Hospital, had concluded that MacDonald was psychologically incapable of committing the murders. The courts have also ruled that Helena Stoeckley's confessions of committing the murders were unreliable and at odds with the established facts of the case, and that her treatment at 1979 trial was correct. During trial, she was arrested under a material witness warrant and testified before the jury that she could not remember her activities on the evening of the murders due to substantial drug use; witnesses to whom she had confessed were not allowed to testify.
MacDonald was granted leave to file his fourth appeal on January 12, 2006. This latest appeal is based on the 2005 affidavit of Jimmy Britt, a decorated retired United States Marshal who worked as such during the trial. Britt states that he heard the material witness in the case, Helena Stoeckley, admit to the prosecutor of the case, James Blackburn, that she was present at the MacDonald house at the time of the murders and that Blackburn threatened her with prosecution if she testified. Stoeckley, however, met with counsel for the defense prior to this alleged meeting with Blackburn, and she told them that she had no memory of her whereabouts the night of the murders. Defense Attorney Wade Smith advised Dupree that Stoeckley had testified on the stand essentially the same as she had stated in the defense interviews. Also, she contacted Dupree during her retention as a material witness to claim she was terrified, not of the prosecutors, but of Bernie Segal, the lead defense attorney. Britt died on October 19, 2008.
On April 16, 2007, MacDonald's attorneys filed an affidavit of Stoeckley's mother, in which she states that her daughter confessed to her twice that she was at the MacDonald house on the evening of the murders and that she was afraid of the prosecutors. Her past statements concerning her daughter are at odds with the details contained in her affidavit. MacDonald has requested to expand the appeal to include all the evidence amassed at trial, evidence which he claims was discovered subsequent to the trial (for example, statements of individuals to whom Stoeckely had made confessions) and the DNA results completed in 2006. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals granted MacDonald's motion for a successive habeas petition and remanded the matter back to the District Court Eastern Division for a decision. In November 2008, Judge Fox denied MacDonald's motion regarding the statement of Britt. This denial was based on the merits of the claim, generally that Stoeckley was unreliable, as she had made many varying statements regarding the murders. Also, that MacDonald's claim that she was expected to testify in a manner favorable to him until threatened by Blackburn is contradicted by the trial records. MacDonald's motions regarding the DNA results and the statement of Stoeckley's mother were also denied. The denial of these two motions was based on jurisdiction issues, specifically that MacDonald had not obtained the required pre-filing authorization from the Circuit Court for these motions to the District Court.
Subsequent to the November 2008 decision, a government motion to modify the decision to reflect that Britt's claims were not factual was denied. Included with the motion was jail documentation establishing that Stoeckley was originally confined to the jail in Pickens, South Carolina, not Greenville, South Carolina, as Britt had claimed. Also included were custody commitment and release forms indicating that agents other than Britt transported Stoeckley to the trial. MacDonald appealed the district court's denial of his claim to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2011, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's decision, remanding MacDonald's claims back to the District Court with instructions for consideration. An evidentiary hearing on the Britt claim and the unknown hairs was held in September, 2012. In July 2014, Judge Fox ruled against MacDonald's appeal and upheld the conviction.
In the years since the trial, defense lawyers have used the Freedom of Information Act to find evidence that the government did not present at trial. However, all of his claims regarding suppressed evidence have been rejected by the courts, citing evidence that many of the items had indeed been available to the defense and, even if they had not, the items did not establish his innocence and would not have changed the verdict of the jury.
MacDonald claims that unidentified fingerprints and fibers found in the house were never matched to anyone known to have been in there prior to or after the murders and that these prints are evidence of intruders. However, the prints do not match anyone named by him as the intruders, and fingerprint exemplars of the children were not obtained and Colette's fingerprint exemplars were of poor quality, as they were taken subsequent to embalming.
Other claims of withheld evidence involve two unidentified 22 inch (56 cm) long synthetic hairs found in a hairbrush, but not pointed out specifically to the defense, and a minute spot of blood that was either type O or type B (MacDonald's blood type) that was found in the hallway. His supporters continue to insist that this was not disclosed to the defense, despite the existence of the trial transcripts which clearly show this spot was indeed disclosed and discussed. They also point to unsourced black wool fibers found on Colette MacDonald's mouth and shoulder as evidence of intruders that the government deliberately did not report to the defense.
In 1995, two of MacDonald's supporters, Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost, wrote Fatal Justice, a book meant to both refute McGinniss' Fatal Vision and present the evidence they claimed had been hidden by government prosecutors.
On September 2, 1997, the district court granted MacDonald's motion to file a supplemental affidavit with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lawyers representing him were given the right to pursue DNA tests on limited hair and blood evidence on October 17, 1997 by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Testing began in December 2000. Defense lawyers hoped that the results would tie Stoeckley and her associate Greg Mitchell to the scene.
DNA test results released by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory on March 10, 2006, showed that neither Stoeckley's nor Mitchell's DNA matched any of the tested exhibits. A limb hair found stuck to Colette's left palm matched MacDonald's DNA profile. It also matched hairs found on the bedspread from the master bed and on the top sheet of Kristen's bed. A hair found in Colette's right palm was sourced as her own. Three hairs, one from the bedsheet, one found in her body outline in the area of her legs, and one found beneath Kristen's fingernail did not match the DNA profile of any MacDonald family member or known suspect.
MacDonald was unsuccessful at incorporating a motion regarding the DNA results into his motion regarding the claims of Britt, with the court stating that he must obtain a pre-authorization for what should be a separate motion regarding the DNA results. On April 19, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted prefiling authorization for his DNA claim. The court reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings.
In September 2012, the District Court conducted an evidentiary hearing, including MacDonald's claims of new DNA "evidence," on remand from the Fourth Circuit's April 2011 ruling. On July 24, 2014, the District Court rejected his claims in their entirety and re-affirmed MacDonald's conviction on all counts. He moved the district court to alter or amend the July 24, 2014 judgment, and the District Court denied his motion in November 2014. He has appealed the denial of his motion to alter or amend the July 2014 judgment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
At the urging of MacDonald's second wife, Kathryn MacDonald (née Kurichh, married in 2002), and his attorneys, he applied for a parole hearing, which was held on May 10, 2005. His parole request was immediately denied. His next scheduled parole hearing will be in May 2020.
As of 2015, MacDonald is serving his sentence at a federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland. He continues to maintain his innocence. In January of 2017, the 4th U.S. District Court of Appeals heard an appeal from MacDonald's attorneys challenging the 2014 refusal to grant him a new trial based on "new evidence", including the hairs found at the scene that don’t match the family’s DNA, and the statement from Jimmy Britt.
In August 2002, MacDonald married Kathryn Kurichh, a teacher who operates a drama school for children in Howard County, Maryland. The two had met briefly in Baltimore decades earlier, but reconnected in 1997 when Kurichh wrote MacDonald a letter asking him how she could help with his legal case. They developed a friendship, which became a romantic relationship. Their marriage occurred while MacDonald was incarcerated at a federal prison in California. After their marriage, MacDonald was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution at Cumberland, Maryland, which is closer to his new legal state of residence and new wife.