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The strange case of Jeffrey MacDonald hasn’t gone away-and neither have his lawyers. In one of the most infamous cases of the baby-boom generation, MacDonald, a former Green Beret group surgeon, was convicted in 1979 of the 1970 murders of his wife and children. In the latest twist, the government has until March 30 to respond to a motion to vacate his life sentences because of newly discovered evidence. MacDonald v. U.S., nos. 75-26-CR-3 and 5:06-CV-24. (E.D.N.C.). The case inspired two best-selling books, a TV movie and endless speculation over who is right: MacDonald, who insisted that four intruders murdered his family, or prosecutors. The case also inspired an unlikely group of attorneys to carry the legal torch for MacDonald. They include a co-counsel who once defended one of the lawyers who helped convict MacDonald, to a three-man legal team that has been donating its services for the past 18 years. Those are the veterans. There are a few relative newcomers. About 18 months ago, MacDonald engaged new counsel, Timothy Junkin of Moffett & Junkin of Gaithersburg, Md. Junkin, who wrote Bloodsworth, the story of the first death row inmate exonerated by DNA tests, said he was drawn to MacDonald’s case because it “looked like a gross example of a defendant being treated unfairly by the criminal justice system.” Initially, he said he had planned to take a small role. MacDonald had never applied for parole although he’d been eligible for 15 years. “I tried to help him do that,” said Junkin. His role grew to lead counsel after the emergence of a new witness in January 2005. MacDonald’s newest lawyer is Raleigh, N.C., solo practitioner Hart Miles, 38, who got involved last November as local counsel just before Junkin filed the motion to vacate. “I grew up with [the MacDonald case],” he said. “I feel lucky to be a part of it. There is so much exculpatory evidence that a jury never heard.” Other lawyers have been on the MacDonald case for years. Macdonald’s trial co-counsel, Wade Smith of Raleigh, N.C.’s Tharrington Smith, later defended a lead MacDonald prosecutor-James Blackburn. Blackburn was convicted in 1993 of obstruction of justice and embezzlement in an unrelated case. Smith became central to the case again when former U.S. Deputy Marshal Jimmy Britt walked into his office in 2005 and informed him that he knew that Helena Stoeckley-a key witness in the MacDonald trial-had lied at trial, according to Britt’s affidavit. Britt said that he was present at a pretrial meeting when Blackburn told Stoeckley that if she told the truth, he would prosecute her for murder. That alleged truth was that she was there when the MacDonalds were murdered. The three-man Boston legal team that has been donating its services for 18 years includes Harvey Silverglate, a prominent Boston criminal defense lawyer who is out of pocket about $250,000 in expenses. Until January, they had the only win in the case. In 1997, Good & Cormier, then Silverglate & Good, lost a bid to file a subsequent habeas petition based on undisclosed evidence they found through the Freedom of Information Act. That evidence included nylon wig fibers found in a hairbrush, and lab notes of black wool fibers found in MacDonald’s wife’s mouth. Stoeckley, who is deceased, was known to wear wigs and dark clothing. But in 1997, they did win the right to test hair samples taken from under the victims’ fingernails. The test results came back just two weeks ago. Two unidentified hair fibers may lend additional credence to MacDonald’s allegation that he and his family had been set upon by strangers. A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January granted the motion to allow MacDonald to file a successive habeas petition. In re Jeffrey MacDonald, No. 05-54B. Less than a week later, the district court ordered the government to respond.

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