Attorney: Stoeckley's accounts of involvement with MacDonald case varied

ablythe@newsobserver.comSeptember 24, 2012 

— Defense lawyers and prosecutors at the Jeffrey MacDonald hearing on Tuesday will begin to knit together key elements from the 20 witnesses called over six days of testimony.

James C. Fox, the federal district court judge overseeing the proceedings, told each side he will give them three hours to argue their points before he begins considering MacDonald’s latest request for relief. The judge’s ruling is not expected for weeks.

For most of Monday, Raleigh lawyer Jerry Leonard was on the witness stand, testifying about the five or six days in August 1979 when he was appointed by the court to represent a material witness for the defense team – Helena Stoeckley, a drug-addled woman considered key to defense contentions that intruders murdered MacDonald’s family in February 1970.

Stoeckley was questioned by police early in the investigation, but in the years afterward she gave conflicting accounts of her whereabouts the night MacDonald’s wife and two daughters were killed.

Leonard was obtained by the courts to represent Stoeckley after she testified at MacDonald’s trial but before the judge released her from a bench warrant. In the span of a day, Leonard said, Stoeckley told him she had nothing to do with the crimes and then, several hours later, that she had been in the MacDonald house.

It was not until Leonard was compelled to testify this week by Fox that the Raleigh lawyer shared details that typically would be protected by attorney-client privilege.

Stoeckley died in 1983. Her parents are dead, and her brother testified last week that his mother told him his sister had told her several times before that she had been in the MacDonald house and saw others kill the doctor’s family.

At MacDonald’s 1979 trial, Stoeckley testified that she was not at the MacDonald home, much to the disappointment of the defense team.

‘I need to know the truth’

Several days after that, while in a room on the same floor as the courtroom where the trial was under way, Leonard said Stoeckley gave a similar account. But later in the day, she posed a question to him.

“She said, ‘What would you do if I told you I was there?’ ” Leonard recalled Monday. “And I said, ‘Well, I need to know the truth.’ ”

Stoeckley had a broken arm at the time, as well as bruises on her face from a recent physical scrape with her boyfriend. She was an emotional wreck, Leonard said.

“She told me she was at the MacDonald house, but it was not as bad as everyone thought,” Leonard recounted Monday.

Leonard said Stoeckley told him she was part of an occult group. In her accounts, Stoeckley said she had gone with friends in the group to the MacDonald house to give him grief because he had turned hardcore drug abusers and heroin-users away from a drug treatment program in which he was involved.

“Ms. Stoeckley said the end result was that things got out of hand,” Leonard recounted.

Broken hobby horse

Stoeckley had been shown crime-scene photographs several days earlier and had read many of the newspaper accounts of the investigation, witnesses testified.

In August 1979, she told Leonard she answered the phone while in the MacDonald house and was told to hang it up immediately. She also told Leonard she saw a hobby horse with broken springs and “took that as a sign that Mr. MacDonald did not care for his children.”

MacDonald’s claim is that DNA evidence from three hairs tested in 2006 should at least win him a new trial. The hairs match no one in the MacDonald family and, according to the defense, bolster the former Army doctor’s account that intruders slaughtered his pregnant wife and daughters.

Though MacDonald’s defense team argued that theory at the 1979 trial, a jury convicted MacDonald of two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of his wife, Colette, and daughter Kimberly, 5, and first-degree murder for Kristen, 2.

MacDonald contends the unmatched DNA and statements made by two people no longer alive – a retired U.S. marshal and the mother of a key defense witness – would persuade a “reasonable lawyer” to reach a different verdict. Prosecutors contend otherwise.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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