The Roundtable
9:40 am
Thu September 13, 2012

A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald by Errol Morris

On Feb. 17, 1970, physician Jeffrey MacDonald called the police to his Fort Bragg, N.C., home. He told the responding officers that he had been assaulted by a group of "hippie" intruders, who had also bludgeoned and stabbed his wife and two young daughters — ages 2 and 5 — to death. MacDonald suffered a concussion and collapsed lung but survived.

The police didn't believe him. Weeks later, Army investigators named him the chief suspect in the murders of his family. A series of investigations and trials followed, and MacDonald was convicted of three counts of homicide in 1979. Although he was freed on bail for two years while he (ultimately unsuccessfully) appealed his conviction, he has now spent decades behind bars for the murders — which he probably didn't commit.

Or so claims Errol Morris, the former private investigator and documentary filmmaker whose 1988 movie, The Thin Blue Line, resulted in an innocent man being freed from prison. A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, his second book, Morris maintains that MacDonald's "trial was rigged in favor of the prosecution," and that authorities "pursued an unethical vendetta" against the surgeon, essentially railroading him.

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