More than 40 years after the “Fatal Vision” murders, Errol Morris’s new book re-investigates a case once covered by the likes of Janet Malcolm and Joe McGinniss:
In February 1970, at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a pregnant woman named Colette MacDonald and her two children, Kimberley, 5, and Kristen, 2, were slaughtered in their home. Colette’s husband, Jeffrey MacDonald, a 26-year-old doctor and Green Beret at the time of the crime, was convicted of the murders in 1979. MacDonald faces the next of countless court dates on September 17, still seeking exoneration. The MacDonald case has been an object of obsession and controversy for more than four decades and the subject of high-visibility journalistic debate. But respectable opinion has always vastly favored the jury verdict of guilt. Errol Morris is trying to change that.
In one highlight of his career as a documentary filmmaker, Morris’ 1988 investigative documentaryThe Thin Blue Line led to the release of Randall Dale Adams, who had been serving a life sentence in the killing of a Dallas policeman. After many years of reporting, Morris has written a new book, A Wilderness of Error, that argues that Jeffrey MacDonald, too, was wrongly convicted. Morris directly challenges prior accounts by Joe McGinniss and the much-revered Janet Malcolm. Morris’ book, published yesterday, infected me with the virus of his fascination with the case and sent me to consult other sources. Can Morris be right? Is a man who tried and failed to prevent his family from being killed now serving three consecutive life terms for the crime?