MacDonald was indicted by a grand jury in 1975. Following several years of legal maneuvering, he was tried and convicted in 1979, and was sentenced to three consecutive life terms. Two appeals have failed, the most recent in 1992. He's now in a federal prison cell in Oregon.
But Potter and Bost, relying on more than 10,000 pages of documents produced in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, present a case that's entirely different from the one the jury heard.Perhaps their most stunning tale is that of the late Helena Stoeckley, a Fayetteville, North Carolina-area hippie who owned a blond wig and a floppy hat.
McGinniss portrayed her as a drug-addicted burnout who muttered vaguely that she might have been involved in the killings, but who was obviously not to be taken seriously. She certainly wasn't by Judge Franklin Dupree, who presided at the 1979 trial.
But according to Potter and Bost, Stoeckley distinctly remembered key facts about the murders, despite having been high on mescaline that night. On a number of occasions she confessed to having been in the home during the killings, and she told investigators that she would name suspects if she were granted immunity. A woman fitting her description was seen near the house immediately after the murders. A woman and a man were spotted at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts later that morning with what looked like blood on their boots. Candle wax and blond wig hairs were found inside the home, but the existence of that evidence was hidden from MacDonald's defense team until years after the conviction.
What's more, Stoeckley's former boyfriend, Greg Mitchell, who died several years ago, told a number of people that he was directly involved in the killings.
Neither Joe McGinniss nor Brian Murtagh wants to talk about Fatal Justice.
Eric Simonoff, of the New York-based literary agency Janklow & Nesbit Associates, which represents McGinniss, told the Phoenix it was unlikely McGinniss would respond to a request for an interview: "Joe is writing a book on the Simpson trial and is pretty sequestered."
Shortly after Fatal Justice's February release, Murtagh, now an assistant US attorney, granted an interview to the Durham, North Carolina, Herald-Sun. He called the book "a real hatchet job.... If you don't have an encyclopedic familiarity with the case, it's easy to get bamboozled." But Murtagh has since stopped talking. When he was contacted at his Washington office by the Phoenix last week to respond to specific allegations in the book, he refused to comment and hung up.
It's unlikely Potter and Bost's plodding, legalistic book will ever have the impact of Fatal Vision. But Louise Brockett, publicity director for W.W. Norton, says it's doing well, noting it's a bestseller in San Francisco, MacDonald's hometown.
Fatal Justice received lukewarm reviews from the New York Times and the Boston Globe, both of whose reviewers seemed disappointed that the authors couldn't prove MacDonald's innocence. But it's gotten attention on CNN's Larry King Live and on CBS's Eye to Eye, with Connie Chung. In addition, Phil Cormier, an associate of Silverglate's, says he's been told Fatal Justice is becoming a must-read at FBI headquarters.
Potter hopes the book and the attendant publicity will force either Attorney General Janet Reno or Congress to "open the case again and ask Murtagh for the things he's still hiding." Adds Bost: "I'm an optimist, and I do believe Jeffrey MacDonald will be out before the year is out."