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Criminal Justice

Documentary Filmmaker Errol Morris Writes About Jeffrey MacDonald Case After His Movie Is Rejected

Posted Sep 4, 2012 1:33 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris helped free a convicted murderer after his film, The Thin Blue Line, suggested there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Now Morris has turned his attention to Jeffrey MacDonald, the Army doctor convicted of killing his family in 1970 despite his assertion that the perpetrators were hippies who chanted, “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs.” Morris tried to interest studios in a documentary, but turned to writing after getting turned down, the New York Times reports. His new book is A Wilderness of Error.

The Times says the book has “enormous investigative heft, with page after page deconstructing fibers, flower pots, hobby horses and source documents. What it does not have is a neat little ending where the reader comes to believe that a wronged man is in jail.” Morris, however, believes in MacDonald, who was the only member of his family to survive the crime.

“I believe he is innocent. I don’t see any evidence to suggest that he is guilty,” Morris told the Times. “One thing we do know is that evidence was lost, some of it went uncollected, and some of it was contaminated. One of the reasons we can’t prove he is innocent is that so much of the evidence is unavailable to us.”

The Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled more than a year ago that a federal court was too restrictive when it barred much of MacDonald’s evidence in assessing his claim of actual innocence. A new hearing will be held on Sept. 17.

Joe McGinniss, who wrote Fatal Vision, a book about the case published in 1983 has been subpoenaed to appear at the hearing in North Carolina. “There is no question in my mind that [MacDonald] did it, and that it was proved in a court of law, and that every court that has looked at that jury verdict has upheld it,” McGinniss told the New York Times. He said he “looks forward to going wherever I need to to play whatever small role I can play in keeping him where he belongs.”

Updated at 3:05 p.m. to include quote from Joe McGinniss.

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