Ex-officer MacDonald in Fort Bragg murders seeks release

FILE - In this March 1, 1995 file photo Jeffrey MacDonald gestures at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan, Ore. MacDonald, a former Army captain serving three life sentences for the 1970 murders of his pregnant wife and two young children, has a hearing scheduled Thursday, March 11, 2021 on his request to a federal judge to free him due to his age and failing health. (AP Photo/Shane Young, file)
FILE - In this March 1, 1995 file photo Jeffrey MacDonald gestures at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan, Ore. MacDonald, a former Army captain serving three life sentences for the 1970 murders of his pregnant wife and two young children, has a hearing scheduled Thursday, March 11, 2021 on his request to a federal judge to free him due to his age and failing health. (AP Photo/Shane Young, file) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

RALEIGH, N.C. – A former Army physician serving life prison sentences for the brutal murders of his wife and two young daughters more than 50 years ago should be released because of his deteriorating health, his attorneys told a judge on Thursday.

Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted in 1979 in the three slayings that occurred at his family home at North Carolina's Fort Bragg. Now serving his time at a Maryland prison, MacDonald declares his innocence and spent years on appeals and requests for a new trial.

MacDonald, 77, has chronic kidney disease, skin cancer and high blood pressure that make him a prime candidate for a sentence reduction, even without the threat of contracting COVID-19 behind bars, attorney Elliot Sol Abrams said.

“This is an extraordinary case,” Abrams told U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle in asking for resentencing and what’s called compassionate release. “He’s at the very end of his life. He’s served 40 years.”

Federal laws that MacDonald's lawyers cited in seeking Boyle to release him don’t apply in the case because the crimes occurred before the laws took effect, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Harris said. Even if they did apply, he added, MacDonald's request should be denied because he's never shown remorse and won’t accept responsibility for his crimes.

“This is a request for a person who murdered his wife and his children ... for compassionate release,” Harris said.

Boyle didn't immediate rule from the bench on the defendant in what's known as the “Fatal Vision” case, named for a book about the investigation.

The hearing occurred in the same Raleigh federal courthouse where a jury convicted MacDonald decades ago in the February 1970 slayings of his pregnant wife, Colette; 5-year-old Kimberley; and 2-year-old daughter Kristen.