Back in 1979, the murder trial of Jeffrey MacDonald both gripped and polarized the nation. The former United States Army officer and physician was accused and convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters in their North Carolina home in 1970.
In the decades since the brutal slayings took place, MacDonald has always maintained his innocence. He alleged that four intruders — three males and one female — were the true culprits, and that the murders occurred during a robbery gone wrong.
While there was other evidence to suggest that the doctor was guilty, investigators were also struck by the fact that MacDonald himself had survived.
In 2012, writer Errol Morris published a true crime book entitled A Wilderness of Error about the reasonable doubt in the case, including mistakes made by investigators at the crime scene.
The book has been turned into a series for FX with the same name, and it is set to premiere on Sept. 25.
Continue reading for the latest Jeffrey MacDonald update — including if he can still appeal, and where he is currently being imprisoned.
Where is Jeffrey MacDonald now in 2020?
MacDonald went on trial in the summer of 1979, and he was convicted of one count of first-degree murder (for the death of his daughter, Kristen MacDonald), and two counts of second-degree murder (for the deaths of his wife, Colette MacDonald, and his other daughter, Kimberley MacDonald).
The prosecution argued that Colette MacDonald had allowed daughter Kristen to sleep on Jeffrey MacDonald's side of the bed on Feb. 17, 1970.
After Kristen wet the bed, they surmised that the physician got angry and violent toward his wife. They claimed that, when he thought he had killed his wife, he harmed his daughters so that there would be no witnesses.
Colette MacDonald was pregnant with a boy at the time of the killings. Jeffrey MacDonald was the one who called 911. Jeffrey MacDonald claimed that intruders had come in while he was sleeping on the couch, and that he woke up when his wife and daughter began to scream.
Compelling pieces of evidence against MacDonald included his lack of significant wounds, and that there was an Esquire magazine found in his living room that detailed the Tate-LaBianca murders by members of the Manson Family. The word "Pig" was written on the headboard of the bed in Colette MacDonald's blood (the word pig was written in blood during the Manson murders a few years earlier).
Authorities later learned that MacDonald had been having affairs during his six-year marriage.
A woman named Helena Stoeckley confessed to taking part in the murders, and she said that her boyfriend and two others had participated as well. According to Stoeckley, the three men, who were in the Army, were concerned about MacDonald's harsh stance on drug use in the base. She said that they were using illegal substances, and they snapped.
She was 17 years old at the time of the crime. Stoeckley was a witness in MacDonald's 1979 trial. She had made several contradictory statements about her role in the events in the years between the murder and the trial.
MacDonald was convicted of the murders in August of 1979, and he is currently serving out his three life sentences at the Federal Correctional Institute in Cumberland, Md.
The now 76-year-old got married to a woman named Kathryn in 2002. The two wed in California, where MacDonald was imprisoned at the time. He was transferred to Maryland in order to be closer to his bride. She believes in her husband's innocence.
Can Jeffrey MacDonald appeal?
MacDonald's legal representation appealed the conviction on the grounds that he was not given the right to a fair and speedy trial, which is protected by the Sixth Amendment. Because nine years separated the murders and the eventual trial, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction in 1980.
He was released from prison in August of 1980, and he returned to his work as a physician.
In December of 1980, the appeal application was denied by the Fourth Circuit Court in a 5-5 decision.
The United States Supreme Court voted to hear the case in 1981, and they later determined in 1982 that MacDonald had not been denied the right to a speedy trial.
Other appeals were denied in 1983, 1985, 1991, and 1992. A 2006 appeal was filed on the basis of Stoeckley's testimony, and new information that her mother had heard her confess to participating in the murders on multiple occasions.
Another appeal was filed in 2011, but in 2014, the conviction was upheld again.
MacDonald was reportedly up for parole in May of 2020, but he is still in prison. According to a 2017 article from People, he would have to admit to the murders in order to get released. He has never confessed to the killings.
A Wilderness of Error premieres on Friday, Sept. 25 at X p.m. on FX. The five episodes will also be available to stream on Hulu the day after they air.