Errol Morris' "A Wilderness of Error" bends the truth and ignores evidence to proclaim a murderer innocent
Murtagh sounds exactly like a lawyer but carries himself exactly like a butler. You want to call him Jeeves. He’s punctilious, a bit formal, often greeting people with a courtly little bow. He views this whole case with an air of bemused exasperation, puzzled by its refusal to die. He knows his “brief” would mostly confuse people. Only two people on Earth, he says, are really in a position to understand it — to understand what a flimsy, paltry, bankrupt case for innocence Errol Morris makes.
Brian Murtagh and ... ?
Murtagh smiles grimly.
. . .
If you are of a certain age, the story is familiar. In the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970, in an officer’s apartment at Fort Bragg, N.C., someone savagely attacked Colette MacDonald, 26, and her two daughters, Kimberly, 5, and Kristen, 2. The weapons were a kitchen knife, an ice pick and a piece of scrap lumber used as a club. Colette was hit so forcefully that both her arms were broken. Kimberly’s skull was split open. All three were stabbed as though in a frenzy, the wounds coming from all directions, but unerringly finding vital organs and vessels.
Military police arrived, summoned by a gasping phone call from Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald, 26. He told them he’d been awakened to the screams of his family, and was immediately set upon by scruffy intruders who were chanting, “Acid is groovy — kill the pigs.” He lost consciousness, he said, and when he awoke the intruders were gone and his family was dead. “Pig” was written in blood on the headboard of a bed.
The doctor’s wounds were trivial, at least compared with those of his family. He had a small, neat incision between his seventh and eighth ribs, just deep enough to partially collapse a lung. He had a lump on his forehead, a cut on his left arm and some superficial lacerations. Only the lung required treatment.
Almost from the start, investigators focused on MacDonald, whose account of the attack seemed to contradict the physical evidence: the locations of bloodstains and spatters and of torn fibers from his pajamas, and the lack of evidence of a furious defensive struggle. Although the doctor was initially cleared by a preliminary Army hearing — “insufficient evidence” — he was prosecuted in 1979 in federal court, where he was convicted after a six-week trial. The jury was out only six hours. The prosecution’s methodical use of circumstantial evidence had overcome a signal weakness in the case: The state never presented an entirely convincing motive.
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