A Charlotte couple’s assertion this week that they heard an acquaintance confess to the murder of Jeffrey MacDonald’s family is the latest proof that MacDonald deserves a new trial, writer Errol Morris said Thursday.
Morris is the author of “A Wilderness of Error,” a new and critical look at MacDonald’s 1979 conviction for murder. The writer and filmmaker was in Wilmington for much of the week, sitting in on a federal court hearing in which MacDonald sought a new trial.
MacDonald, a former Green Beret and Ivy League-educated physician, was sentenced to three life terms for the 1970 massacre of his pregnant wife and two young daughters at Fort Bragg.
This week, John and Chris Griffin of Charlotte told the Observer that they heard another man confess to the crimes more than 30 years ago. They say Greg Mitchell, whom they hired to do electrical work, made a sobbing admission while drinking heavily at their former Lake Wylie home. The Griffins believe he was telling the truth.
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Morris said the Griffins’ information should be heard in a courtroom.
“Is this the only confession out there? No. But what’s so significant about this piece of information and what makes it important is that it corroborates another confession Mitchell made,” Morris said during a phone interview from New York Thursday. “We’re talking about multiple confessions by Helena Stoeckley and Greg Mitchell.
“So what’s infuriating is this: What do you have to do to get this kind of evidence before a jury or a judge?”
Greg Mitchell’s story
Stoeckley was Mitchell’s girlfriend when both were living near Fort Bragg at the time of the killings. Mitchell grew up in the Anson County town of Polkton. He was a Vietnam veteran who married and moved to Charlotte in 1972.
For 42 years, MacDonald has claimed that four intruders – three men and a woman – attacked him and then killed his family.
Mitchell and Stoeckley apparently told friends and family that they had been involved in the killings. Helena Stoeckley’s brother testified in court this week that his mother told him Helena had been in the MacDonald home the night of the attacks.
The Griffins told the Observer this week that Mitchell made his drunken confession during the summer of either 1980 or 1981.
Yet, in 1971, Mitchell passed an Army polygraph test indicating he had no connection to the murders.
A former prosecutor in the case testified Thursday that, when interviewed before the 1979 trial, Stoeckley never confessed to the crime or said she was in the MacDonald home. Mitchell died in 1982; Stoeckley in 1983.
After some 20 years of investigating the MacDonald case, Morris said he still does not totally believe that Mitchell and Stoeckley did the killings. “But I do believe that this material should have been presented to the jury,” he said.
Instead, he accuses police and the prosecution of investigating Mitchell and Stoeckley only as far as it took to discredit them.
“I believe this case has been terribly handled,” he said. “Part of that is a jury was never effectively able to learn about the number of confessions made, principally by Stoeckley and Mitchell.
“We’re talking about reasonable doubt here, or should be.”