• MacDonald’s lawyers cite his age and failing health.
  • The government says MacDonald is not eligible to use the compassionate release law.
  • MacDonald is serving three consecutive life sentences — could the judge reduce his punishment?

A federal judge in Raleigh heard arguments on Thursday afternoon as to whether Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Army captain, should be released from the triple-life sentence he is serving for the murders of his wife and children at Fort Bragg in 1970.

After listening to arguments for about an hour at the federal courthouse in Raleigh — where MacDonald was convicted in 1979 — U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said he wasn’t in a position to make an immediate decision on MacDonald’s request for a compassionate release.

Jeffrey MacDonald

“I intend to give the gravity and issues in this case the attention they deserve,” he said.

MacDonald is serving three consecutive life sentences at a prison in Maryland. He did not attend Thursday’s hearing. He was convicted in 1979 of beating and stabbing to death his pregnant wife, Colette, and 5-year-old daughter Kimberley. He was convicted of stabbing to death 2-year-old Kristen.

Bob Stevenson, Colette MacDonald’s brother, spoke on behalf of her family. He held up photographs of Colette and the children and urged Boyle to keep MacDonald behind bars.

“This man should never be allowed to walk the face of the Earth again,” Stevenson said.

Colette MacDonald's brother, Bob Stevenson, center, leaves the federal courthouse in Raleigh  on Thursday, March 11, 2021, after a hearing on whether Colette's husband, Jeffrey MacDonald should be given compassionate release from prison. Jeffrey MacDonald is serving three life sentences for the murder of Colette and their two children at Fort Bragg in 1970.

Jeffrey MacDonald’s current wife, Kathryn attended the hearing, as did Wade Smith, one of his lawyers from his trial in 1979.

Court filings say federal law from the 1980s and updated in 2018 allows inmates over age 70 to ask to a judge to grant them compassionate release. The inmates may request release if they have served at least 30 years of their sentences, or if there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for them to be set free.

The MacDonald legal team argued that he should be released due to his age (77), his time behind bars (40 years), his poor health (chronic kidney disease, skin cancer, and high blood pressure), and the risk that he could catch COVID-19.

Kathryn MacDonald, wife of Jeffrey MacDonald, and lawyer Wade Smith leave the federal courthouse in Raleigh on Thursday, March 11, 2021, after a hearing on whether Jeffrey MacDonald should be given compassionate release from federal prison for the murders of his previous wife and two children in 1970.

Doctors say MacDonald will soon need kidney dialysis and once that starts he is expected to live no more than three years, said defense lawyer Elliot Sol Abrams.

The defense lawyers also cited their ongoing contention that MacDonald was wrongly convicted.

MacDonald and his lawyers should not be allowed to re-litigate their innocence claims in a sentencing hearing, said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Harris.



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