The Jeffrey MacDonald Information Site is a compendium of information about the Jeffrey MacDonald case. MacDonald was convicted in 1979 of the murders of his pregnant wife and two small daughters. He is serving three life sentences for that brutal crime.

The Murders of Colette, Kimberley and Kristen MacDonald

The Jeffrey MacDonald Information Site

August 10, 1970: Dr. Robert McGann, MD


MR. SEGAL: Would you next call Dr. McGann, please.

(Dr. Robert C. McGann was called as a witness for the defense, was sworn, and testified as follows.)

Questions by MR. SEGAL:
Q Dr. McGann, would you give your full name and your home address, please?
A Robert Charles McGann, 9 Hawthorne Street, Boston, Massachusetts.
Q What is your profession?
A Physician.
Q Medical doctor?
A Medical doctor.
Q And what are your educational qualifications?
A I received my bachelor of medical science at Northwestern, undergrad, and with the Honors Medical Program at Northwestern University, graduating in 1968.
Q Where did you stand in your class?
A I was first in a class of 134.
Q Did you know Captain Jeffrey MacDonald at that time?
A I did.
Q In what connection did you know Captain MacDonald?
A We met my freshman year at medical school because we were lab partners and then I knew him, we began to see each other socially.
Q Let me interrupt. I want to finish one other area before you go off into that. Do I understand from your answer that Captain MacDonald was a classmate of yours at medical school?
A Correct.
Q And you graduated from Northwestern medical school. Where did you go thereafter for your medical training? And in what field?
A I've been at the Massachusetts General Hospital for three years, surgery.
Q Is Massachusetts General Hospital a specialized hospital in way or have special training to offer in the surgical field of any sort?
A Well, it's widely considered to be the best general hospital in the country.
Q What is your present standing in the hospital? Are you a resident in surgery?
A I'm the resident surgeon.
Q Now if we could go back to this point of your knowledge of Captain MacDonald. You say you knew him in medical school. What were your contacts with him in school?
A Well, daily contact for three years in medical school, you know, more or less on the job. We used to play handball almost daily. My sophomore year of medical school, we saw each other socially, probably about once a week, when I use to babysit for his family about once month, and they had me over for dinner because I was unmarried.
Q Do I gather from your answer that you also knew Mrs. MacDonald, Colette MacDonald?
A Extremely well.
Q Did you also know the MacDonald children?
A Yes, sir.
Q How often would you say that you babysat for the MacDonald children?
A I would say about 20 times in four years.
Q How would you characterize Captain MacDonald's attitude toward his wife, Colette, during the time that you knew them?
A Well, in honesty, I thought it was an ideal marriage.
Q Are you married yourself?
A No, I'm not.
Q How would you characterize Captain MacDonald's attitude towards his children?
A He was an extremely devoted father and they were extremely devoted to him. He spent a lot with them, he played with them, etc., which -- you know, the amount of hours you work in medical school, I know some of my other married friends didn't do this. You could tell the feeling between he and the children.
Q Did you ever see Captain MacDonald inflict any physical violence upon his children or threaten to do that to his children?
A Absolutely not.
Q What was Mrs. MacDonald's attitude toward her husband?
A Well, as I say, they were just -- I thought they were very happily married.
Q What was Mrs. MacDonald's attitude toward the MacDonald children?
A A very devoted mother.
Q Did you ever see her threaten or actually inflict any physical violence upon her children?
A No, I did not.
Q How would you characterize the children in terms of their behavior?
A Well, Kimmie is the one I knew best, because Kristen was born -- well, by the time I graduated from medical school, she was only a year old, so I knew her very little, other than feeding her with a bottle when I babysat. But Kim, Kimberly, I knew up to about age 5 and she was a very well-behaved child, very precocious in the sense that, you know, she was a very intelligent child.
Q How close to February 17th, 1970, had you had any contact with either Captain MacDonald or Mrs. MacDonald?
A Well, I had been considering entering the Army to fulfill my military obligation and about a month before this happened, I called Jeff and asked him if could, you know, send me a letter with some considerations, the various considerations on entering the Army at this stage, which I didn't have to do because I'm not committed until I finish training. He wrote me back about an 8-page letter.
Q Excuse me. Could you just keep your voice a little louder, Dr. McGann, so our stenographer can hear you more clearly?
A He answered me with this 8-page letter, the first two pages of which went into great length describing how happy that he and his family were, then the last 6 pages telling me the various considerations involved in making the step of entering the Army at this time.
Q What was Captain MacDonald's attitude toward his Army service, as a doctor?
A It was more or less "gung-ho." He was -- you know, he really liked it. But this was typical of his attitude in anything else.
Q In what sense do you speak?
A Anything he did.
Q What way do you mean it was typical of anything he did?
A Well, anything he did, he -- he just didn't do anything halfway.
Q Did you have occasion to observe Captain MacDonald in the years you've known him, under emotional stress or pressure of any sort, medically or --
A Once when we were in a tight situation, we were more or less heckled on the street once, so I've seen him under several periods of stress.
Q And how would you characterize his response to pressure or emotional stress?
A Well, as far as his medical confidence goes under periods of stress, he has one of the coolest heads I've ever come in contact with.
Q How was his response to this unexplained street situation that you've described?
A Sure glad he was with me, because in that type of spot, I don't respond very coolly under street confrontations, so to speak.
Q Did you have occasion to see Captain MacDonald on or shortly after February 17th, 1970?
A I did.
Q When did you see him?
A I saw him first in the evening, about 8 p.m. That would be February 19th.
Q And where did you see Captain MacDonald?
A In his room at Womack Army Hospital.
Q And for how long did you see him on that date?
A Approximately two hours.
Q And did you see him on any subsequent days?
A I spent about 6 hours with him on Friday and two hours Saturday morning before the funeral services.
Q Was anyone else there for that length of time besides yourself and Captain MacDonald?
A Thursday night there was Bob; Friday there was Dr. Manson and his wife were there that afternoon and five or six of his close friends. Then there was his sister. Dudley Warrington [sic, should be Warner] from San Francisco, etc., was there.
Q Did you have occasion to observe the injuries on or about Dr. MacDonald's head?
A Yes.
Q What injuries did you observe and would you describe them for the investigating officer?
A Well, the first thing that was immediately apparent was that he had a chest tube coming out of his right anterior chest --
Q Excuse me. I want to come to that if you will, but would you first direct your attention to any injuries on or about the head area.
A He had a large contusion over his left mid-forehead area and a smaller one over his right temple, frontal temple area.
Q With regard to the second injury, the right frontal temple area, would that in any way -- was it in any way obscured or anything?
A It was partially obscured by the hairline.
Q Now did you observe any other injuries on the body of Captain MacDonald?
A Yes, I did. There were several -- what I call superficial lacerations to his left upper quadrant of his abdomen; there were several puncture wounds in the left upper quadrant of his abdomen and there was a penetrating chest wound in his right lower rib cage, just lateral to the lower edge of his stomach.
Q Did you consider any of these injuries, based upon the observations you were able to make, to be life-threatening?
A The more serious one -- any of the abdominal would/could have been life-threatening, depending upon subsequent treatment, but the more serious one was this -- beside possible complications -- was this penetrating wound in his right anterior chest.
Q And what caused you to believe that was the most serious wound that you observed?
A Well, there's lethal proximal complications of a penetrating chest wound in that area.
Q Would you describe what those complications are? Or could be?
A Well, the right middle lobe of the lung is directly behind this, so any penetrating chest wound in that area, inevitably will puncture the lung and the complications of this is a pneumothorax and/or a hemopneumothorax and could well have been a tension pneumothorax, which can be rapidly fatal in several minutes.
Q Were there any other reasons that caused you to believe that was the more serious or life-threatening injury?
A Well, the great vessels of the heart lie right behind the sternum and to the left of the sternum and the inferior vena cava, which is the main vein to the lower half of the body, runs over this penetrating chest wound he had, so depending how deep the knife went in, he could have easily -- it could have easily been severed, which would have been rapidly fatal.
Q When you say rapidly fatal, how rapidly are you saying?
A Two or three minutes.
Q Assuming a doctor --
A Also the liver lies immediately right in this area, too, and this is a potentially a fatal region, too.
Q Assuming that a doctor wanted to inflict an injury to himself that would appear serious but not -- would not be fatal, and assuming that he inflicted the injury on the chest as you described Captain MacDonald's wounds, could he possibly anticipate the medical consequences of inflicting such an injury on himself?
A You're asking me if he wanted to inflict a voluntary injury?
Q Yes, and would he be able to anticipate the medical consequences of doing it to himself?
A Certainly not.
Q Would he be able to tell, in inserting a knife in that section, whether he would possibly cut the main artery you're talking about?
A Absolutely not. The inferior vena cava -- the right area of the heart sits in -- occupies -- the whole area behind the sternum and comes out right over the sternum in that area.
Q Now if a doctor wanted to inflict a fatal injury upon himself by stabbing, which he chose the area apparently inflicted by Captain MacDonald, as opposed to some other area of the body, if he wanted to be a hundred percent sure it was fatal?
A If I wanted to be a hundred percent sure with a knife, I'd just go for the heart, because he's going for a pretty high risk area.
Q Have you had any other communications in the few months before February 1970, with Captain MacDonald and his family, other than the letter you referred to?
A Well, subsequent to that letter, I had called Captain MacDonald at least three times. As a matter of fact, about two Sundays before this happened, I called him at his home and he was away at some hospital moonlighting and I talked to his wife for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Q And how would you characterize her attitude at that time in terms of whether she was -- seemed to be happy or unhappy, her married life and family life generally?
A They were always happy in their married life. In medical school they had financial hardships and he simply just had to have, you know, outside jobs, etc., and to put himself through medical school. And, you know, when I saw her in -- that's been about 8 months before this happened and then over the phone, she just kept, you know, she was all excited about how this is the first time they had ever been financially on solid ground and Jeff was able to spend a lot of time at home with the family, playing with the children, and she told me about the horse he had given them. You know, this was more or less the happiest time of their marriage.
Q How would you rate Dr. MacDonald as to his qualities as a physician?
A Outstanding. Especially under -- what really separates the men from the boys, as far as doctors are concerned, is how you react under an emergency situation and I can honestly say I don't know of anybody who acts any better.
Q Would you want to work with him in the future?
A I certainly would. Except he's going into orthopedics.

MR. SEGAL: I have nothing further at this time.

COL ROCK: Perhaps prior to beginning cross-examination, we might take our break. The hearing will recess for 15 minutes.

(The hearing recessed at 1455 hours, 10 August 1970.)

(The hearing reconvened at 1510 hours, 10 August 1970.)

COL ROCK: This hearing is now open. All parties who were present at the recess are currently in the hearing room. I remind you, doctor, that you're under oath. Please proceed. I believe you have turned this witness over to counsel for the government for cross-examination?

MR. SEGAL: Yes, sir.

Questions by CPT SOMERS:
Q Dr. McGann, are you certified by the American Board of Surgeons?
A No.
Q How much do you lack being certified?
A Two years.
Q Now I understand you were first in your class in medical school, is that right?
A That is correct.
Q What was the standing of Captain MacDonald?
A I don't know exactly, but I know he made Alpha Beta Alpha, which means it's like being Phi Beta Kappa in college. It's a medical honorary fraternity for the top students in the class, not only grade-wise, but evaluation of your so-called moral conduct observed by your professors during medical school.
Q What percentage of the class is included?
A Less than ten percent. Probably about 7 percent of the class.
Q And you say this is based on grades and --
A It's based mostly on grades, but you have to -- a letter is sent to all faculty members and they have to write a letter back evaluating you. I happen to know, since I was first in the class, I was in charge of screening the others and several people were rejected because of morals -- you know, they didn't think they were good physicians.
Q You described the marriage of Captain MacDonald as being an ideal marriage, in your opinion, is that right?
A That is correct.
Q Now, with respect to discipline of the children, how did Captain MacDonald go about disciplining the children?
A Well, I would just say he disciplined them appropriately. They were well-behaved children. Now, obviously, if his daughter came up and you know, threw a jar of jelly to the floor, he'd have words with her, but they were appropriately disciplined. Very appropriately. They were well-behaved children, so discipline was not a problem. What I am trying to say is that he would never discipline them except when it was necessary to do so.

COL ROCK: Would you please speak louder.

Q Now with respect to Mrs. MacDonald, how did she discipline the children?
A Again, all I can say is I always considered her -- very appropriate discipline. She was a very good mother. She -- I thought she had unusual insight in child psychology, if you will.
Q Did they ever raise their voices at each other?
A No, they did not. Not in my presence.
Q What is your attitude toward the Army, doctor?
A I'm right now -- I'll be going in after I'm fully trained, in another two years.
Q Do you consider yourself "gung-ho"?

MR. SEGAL: Now that's objected to.

CPT SOMERS: It's his term.
A Let me answer the question.

CPT BEALE: Just a minute, doctor. Captain Somers, I'm sorry, he cannot answer the question. The objection is sustained. Doctor, do you have something that you'd like to explain?

A No, well, I was considering volunteering for the Army this July, if that will answer your question.
Q Now let's talk a little bit about this street confrontation. Would you describe it for us?
A Well, Dr. MacDonald and I and his wife and my date were out on the street one night, and --
Q Where was this, doctor?
A In Chicago. And you know, a -- whatever you want to call him -- a toughie or whatever you want to call it, came up and started giving us a hard time about where we had parked our car. We just more or less tried to discuss it and he broke out a tire iron and came at us. And MacDonald handled the situation pretty well.
Q How did he handle it? What did he do?
A Well, I was -- I just stepped back and he took off his coat and wrapped it around his arm and disarmed the guy.
Q How?
A The guy took one swing and missed and he overpowered him.
Q How?
A You want me to explain blow by blow?
Q I do, yes.

MR. SEGAL: I object.

CPT SOMERS: This subject as to the reaction of Captain MacDonald under a stressful situation was raised by the defense. Just exactly what he did in this reaction, I think is relevant.

COL ROCK: I fail to see any real reason for this line of questioning, counsel. Please move on to another line of questioning.

Q You saw Captain MacDonald on the 19th of February?
A That is correct.
Q Did you see him on the 17th of February?
A I did not.
Q And were you a treating physician?
A Was I a treating physician? How do you mean a treating physician?
Q For Captain MacDonald?
A A treating physician -- I'm not sure I know what that term means.
Q Were you treating him medically?
A I was not.
Q You've described some injuries which he had apparently sustained.
A That's correct.
Q Would you indicate for us, please, by showing us on your own body, where you saw the injury of the right lower chest area?
A Right there. Just lateral to the lower edge of the sternum, just on the right anterior chest.
Q Where was this chest tube?
A It was a right interior chest tube in the second intercostal space. In the same particular line.
Q I see. Thank you very much. Will you show us that, please?
A It's right here. A standard place for an interior chest tube.
Q How deep was the right lower chest wound, do you know?
A It's impossible to answer that question.
Q How deep are the liver and this vena cava?
A Vena cava.
Q I'm sorry. Vena cava.
A How deep are they?
Q In the average man?
A The liver lies immediately behind the lower rib cage. As soon as you go through the rib cage, you're in the liver in that area, if they're down that low. Different people have varying positions of the liver, depending on where the diaphragm is. The vena cava is in the right quarter of the heart, the vena cava is located posteriorly to the right corner of the heart; comes out right behind the sternum, which is the breastbone, right there. And it varies in different people as to how far laterally it goes.
Q Is there any way for a physician to discover by sounding or any other method just what the approximate location of his own organs is?
A No, not with certainty.
Q Is there any way for him to find out approximately?
A Well, going to medical school, you know where they are approximately.
Q I'm still not sure -- in terms of inches, can you estimate in terms of inches, how deep the vena cava usually is?
A In terms of inches?
Q Use any measure you like.
A At that particular level, I'd say four centimeters roughly. But the inferior vena cava pours into the right atrium, which is a laterally lines structure there at that area and the right atrium is pressed right against the sternum, so it's not that far.
Q You've described an injury on the right front of the head, is that correct?
A A contusion to his right frontal temple area. That is correct.
Q What's your description of that injury? Did it break the skin?
A It was broken, an abrasion and a contusion. It was slightly abraded -- in the sense of -- well, you know what's meant by an abrasion, do you not?
Q I do, but if you'd like to explain it, feel free.
A Well, if you know, I don't need -- an abrasion is more or less where the skin has been scraped and a contusion is the result of a bump type injury.
Q Now from your observation of this injury, do you know how it was inflicted?
A No, other than it was inflicted with a blunt instrument.
Q Do you know when it was inflicted?
A Not with certainty, but it was -- no, absolutely not. I can't tell you the hour it was inflicted.
Q Can you tell us of your observation of the injury the day it was inflicted?
A No.
Q How did you happen to notice this particular injury, Doctor?
A As a physician, you're trained to observe and I observed it.
Q I see. You were not present at Womack in any medical capacity, were you, Doctor?
A No, I was not.
Q You consider yourself a friend of Captain MacDonald?
A A close friend.
Q As I understand your testimony, you spoke to Mrs. MacDonald approximately two weeks prior to the 17th? Colette MacDonald.
A Yes, Colette MacDonald. That's correct.
Q One of the subjects of this conversation was a horse or a pony, is that correct?
A That's correct.
Q Did you say how she felt about this pony or horse?
A She thought it was great.
Q Now you said that Captain MacDonald reacts very well under pressure and remains cool?
A That's correct. In reference to medical emergencies, which is the context I was using it, that is absolutely correct.
Q You also used it in another context, did you not?
A That's correct.
Q Do you mean by this that he is undemonstrative, unaffected by emotional pressure?
A No, I do not mean that.
Q What do you mean? If that's incorrect, in what way is this statement incorrect?
A Well, if meaning -- what you're getting at is he had no emotions towards his family, which I assume is what you're leading at, that's incorrect.
Q Certainly not, no.
A Well, I thought that was the general trend of the questioning.

MR. SEGAL: Please keep your voice up.

A What I meant by -- in a medical situation, some people panic. He -- you know, always keeps his cool and does whatever needs to be done.
Q How often have you observed Dr. MacDonald in the practice of medicine since medical school?
A None. Other than I know several nurses who worked with him at Columbia Hospital came to Mass. General Hospital and had high words of praise for him in stating his performance there.
Q Thank you, Doctor, but the question was how long --
A Well, that's an indirect observation.
Q But it's not a direct one. In your opinion, his professional competence is based on what you saw in medical school and anything else is discussions or things of that nature since then?
A That's correct.

CPT SOMERS: I have no further questions.

MR. SEGAL: I have nothing further of Dr. McGann. Does the investigating officer?

COL ROCK: I only have one question, Doctor. Have you ever seen Captain MacDonald in a frustrating situation in which he was absolutely cool or have you seen him in situations where sometimes he may blow up, as the expression goes?

WITNESS: I have never seen him blow up.

COL ROCK: You've never seen him blow up. Have you seen him in a frustrating situation in medical school?

WITNESS: You mean medically?

A I don't know what you mean by frustrating situations, as far as medical practice goes. You mean a patient dies or something?
Q Yes, or any other situation where people may become quite excited about the situation where they have no control over it and they just blow their cool, so to speak. You mentioned the word cool before, so I think you understand that one.
A This, to me, is what makes Jeff a great physician, is that he does not blow his cool in tight situations.
Q And so you've never seen him blow his cool?
A No.

COL ROCK: I have no further questions. Does either counsel?

(Negative response from both counsel.)

COL ROCK: Doctor, you are requested not to discuss your testimony with any person other than either counsel for the government or counsel for the defense. You are excused permanently. Thank you.



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