September 2012: MY TAKE ON A WILDERNESS OF ERROR BY ERROL MORRIS
By Christina Masewicz
After all this time, Errol Morris decided he wanted to get on the band wagon by writing his own book. Morris called me several times for no other reason than to try and get me to intercede and put him in contact with people he knew I knew. Morris lied to me and said he had not made up his mind as to whether MacDonald was guilty or innocent. I taped all the conversations we had which shows what his intent was and the fact he lied. Morris' book was released September 4, 2012 approximately three weeks before the hearing. I do not believe that was just a coincidence, I believe it was done on purpose.
Morris has a habit of using people to gain recognition. A good example of that was the Randall Adams case which Morris did the documentary on entitled The Thin Blue Line. Morris did accomplish a good thing by getting Adams out of prison, but at what price? Adams sued Morris and his attorney summed it quite well saying, "After being a prisoner of the justice system for 12 years Mr. Adams should not have been required to be a prisoner of Errol Morris for life."
I read Morris book, A Wilderness of Error. I was not impressed. There are many mistakes in the book starting with Bob Stevenson being Colette's younger brother as opposed to her older brother. He also stated that Fred Kassab died in 1991, three years prior to his death. Many of the mistakes I chalk up to carelessness or perhaps laziness. The following are major mistakes which I take issue with.
I. Overview: A Wilderness of Error
(A) Morris, recycles every meritless theory and bogus argument that Bernard Segal made to the jury, and which they, and the courts, rejected. The book is not so much written as disingenuously paste-potted together from carefully parsed transcripts, many with Morris playing the role of the great detective.
(B) Morris doesn't deal with major parts of the prosecution's evidence, such as the sheet and bedspread found on the floor of the master bedroom, and MacDonald's demonstrably false attempts to provide an exculpatory explanation for this evidence. E.g. He never touched the pile of bedding but his own expert, John Thornton testified that there was a bloody fabric impression that matched the right cuff of MacDonald's pajama cuff; both the fabric impression on the sheet and the cuff were stained with Colette's Type A blood.
(C) He doesn't cover the fact that MacDonald's pajama top was stained with Colette's blood before it was torn, which is impossible according to MacDonald's account that his pajama top was torn in a "struggle" with the hippies in the living room, and he put it on Colette when he first came into the master bedroom.
(D) He doesn't explain how sixty pieces of the pajama top, including the ripped off pocket bearing a contact stain in Colette's blood type, could be found in the master bedroom, including 30 seam threads under her body.
(E) What little prosecution evidence he does discuss, he treats not in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the appellate standard in any legal challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, but in the light least favorable to the prosecution and most favorable to the defendant. The book might just as well have been written by one of MacDonald's lawyers.
(F) His overarching flaw as a journalist and would be detective is to accept anything and everything MacDonald said, in an unsuccessful attempt to exculpate himself, as gospel, and to vilify anybody who dared to questioned MacDonald's veracity. Not only is this mind set gullible, but it ignores the fundamental theory of the prosecution and the Supreme Court cases which underpinned it: exculpatory statements by the defendant demonstrated to be false are evidence of consciousness of guilt, are treated in evidence like confessions, and are sufficient to support a judgment of conviction. Morris, because of tunnel vision, fails to grasp that the only thing which stands between guilt and innocence in this case is the credibility of MacDonald's account. And because Morris and the faithful believe MacDonald's account the public and the prosecutors are compelled to do likewise. Bullshit!
(G) Morris also repeats the canard that the prosecution told the jury that "there was no evidence of intruders"; the prosecutors never used those words, nor did they in any way imply to the jury that there was no physical item that could not be demonstrated to have come from the household. How could they? There were dozens of unidentified fingerprints, hairs, fibers and other household debris. What the prosecutors told the jury was that the evidence which could not be accounted for by intruders, the pajama top reconstruction and MacDonald's bare left footprint in Colette's blood exiting from Kristen's room, identified MacDonald as the only possible criminal agent. The prosecutors also told the jury if you believe him then acquit him. The jurors obviously didn't believe MacDonald's account, and they didn't acquit him
(H) That Morris is not convinced of MacDonald's guilt is irrelevant: the jurors, each and every one of them, who actually heard the testimony, including MacDonald's exculpatory account, and saw the demonstrative evidence were each convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial was a kind of Roshamon - MacDonald's story versus the story told by the evidence through numerous witnesses. If Morris were to have his way, the guilt or innocence of MacDonald would be re-litigated forty-three years after the murders by means of juxtaposition of the evil Gary Cole and the good Gary Cole acting out a screenplay cobbled together by Morris? What chutzpah!
(I) Morris just doesn't get it that Fatal Vision (and its evil author) played no role in the trial that resulted in MacDonald's conviction on three counts of murder. How could it, the book was published more than three years after the verdict, and after the Fourth Circuit had affirmed his conviction, and the Supreme Court had declined to review that decision?
(J) It is also patently absurd to argue, as Morris does, that Fatal Vision was responsible for the courts rejecting all of MacDonald's collateral attacks on his conviction. Federal judges at the District Court, Appellate and Supreme Court levels simply do not decide a petition for federal habeas relief on the basis of what's outside the record. Morris, obviously hopes to change all that.
(K) But the most catastrophic failure to Morris's "MacDonald was railroaded" thesis is the complete omission of the fact that Britt swore that he transported Helena Stoeckley from Greenville, South Carolina (she was actually in Pickens South Carolina), to Raleigh, that she confessed during this long trip, and that the next day when being interviewed by Jim Blackburn, that "Ms. Stoeckley told Mr. Blackburn the same things she had stated to me on the trip from Greenville to Raleigh." What is omitted, although it has been a matter of public record, supported by sworn statements and irrefutable documentary evidence, that other Marshals transported her, not from Greenville, South Carolina but from Pickens, South Carolina on the day before the interview. Britt drove her the five blocks from the Wake County Jail in Raleigh, where she was lodged, to the Federal Courthouse, and he never claimed that she confessed in this short trip. For Morris not to in any way inform the reader that the defense's "unimpeachable" witness was impeached years ago, as will soon be clear to all, is outrageous.
Britt thought he had all his ducks in a row, he was mistaken. Britt was an angry man and I believe he thought he had been mistreated by the Marshals Services he had worked for. It is my opinion that in his mind he saw a way to get even when the fact came to his attention by way of his wife, who was a Marshals Service administrator received a routine receipt mailed to the United States Marshals Service in 2002 informing them that records that had been sent to be archived at the Federal Records Center could now be destroyed after twenty-five years, instead of the previously standard of fifty-five years.
In 2004, Britt called Mattie Reddick, out of the blue. Miss Mattie (as she was referred to) had worked with him in the Marshal's office stated she had not talked to Britt in a number of years and was surprised to hear from him. The purpose of his call was to elicit the whereabouts of Geraldine (Gerry) Holden. Reddick informed Britt that Holden was in a rest home in Morehead near her daughters. Britt apparently discovered that Holden died March 21, 2005, seven months before he came forward and executed his affidavit. Britt was banking on the records being destroyed by that time and with Holden dead, he thought he was home free and that there would be no way to prove otherwise.
After remaining silent about this for a quarter-century, Jimmy Britt waited until 2005 to come forward with his affidavit. That records survived apparently was an administrative oversight, and because of that oversight it proved Britt was not telling the truth.
What this all boils too, Britt gave conflicting statements in each one of his affidavits. Things Britt said in one affidavit was omitted in another one and even after making several affidavits, wrong information was left in as evidenced by the following exchange between Defense Attorney Widenhouse and Wade Smith during the September 2012 hearing:
Q NOW, IN LOOKING AT PARAGRAPHS 11 AND 15, THERE APPEARS TO BE OR THERE IS AN INCONSISTENCY IN THE LOCATION WHERE MR. BRITT SAID HE WENT TO GET MS. STOECKLEY.
Q AND IN THE COURSE OF THE STATEMENTS AND AFFIDAVITS HE GAVE YOU, WHERE DID HE MOST OFTEN SAY HE WENT IN SOUTH CAROLINA?
A WELL, SOMETIMES HE SAID CHARLESTON. SOMETIMES HE SAID GREENVILLE. MY RECOLLECTION IS THAT IN THE NOVEMBER 2005 AFFIDAVIT HE SAID IT WAS GREENVILLE.
Q AND WHEN YOU WERE TALKING TO HIM AND PREPARING THESE AFFIDAVITS, WAS THE LOCATION IN SOUTH CAROLINA WHERE HE WENT OF PARTICULAR SIGNIFICANCE OR NOT?
A WELL, I'M SURE THAT I SHOULD HAVE BEEN -- HAD MY WITS ABOUT ME ENOUGH TO CATCH THAT, BUT I WASN'T THINKING ABOUT WHAT TOWN IT WAS IN. I WAS -- I ONLY WAS THINKING ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE WENT DOWN THERE TO GET HER AND SOUTH CAROLINA WAS WHAT HE ALWAYS SAID.
AND SO IF I HAD BEEN SMART ENOUGH AT THAT TIME TO CATCH THE FACT THAT HE SAID CHARLESTON ONCE OR TWICE OR EARLY -- I MEAN IN THE OCTOBER AFFIDAVIT, I COULD HAVE STRAIGHTENED IT OUT, AND I'M SORRY I DIDN'T, BUT I JUST DIDN'T CATCH IT.
THE COURT: EXCUSE ME JUST ONE MOMENT. DID MR. BRITT READ THIS?
THE WITNESS: I'M SURE HE DID, YOUR HONOR. BEFORE HE SIGNED IT, I'M SURE HE DID.
THE COURT: SO, HE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY HIMSELF TO CORRECT IT?
THE WITNESS: YES, SIR.
II. Factual Errors And Material Omissions
Page 13 Colette MacDonald had 21 ice pick wounds to her chest, not 24 to her chest and arm as said in book, and the number 21 is significant. This testimony came from Major George Gammel, who performed the autopsy, and not from the testimony of the MPs as Morris suggests.
Page 14 Nobody testified that MacDonald had two stab wounds, one of which was in his stomach. He had the incised wound between his 7th and 8th ribs which produced the pneumothorax, and a superficial laceration of the left rectus muscle.
Page 14 It wasn't "Specialist Four" William Ivory who was the first CID Agent who arrived at the scene, it was "Specialist Seven" Ivory. Morris makes him sound like an Army Corporal when he had the same grade as a Sergeant First Class.
Page 15 Ivory was neither young nor inexperienced as an investigator, born in 1939 he was 30 years old, had been an accredited CID Agent for six years, and before that was a Military Policeman.
Page 33 The concept of psychopathy did not seal MacDonald's fate because no psychiatric testimony was admitted; what sealed MacDonald's fate was the fact that he was a liar, the prosecution proved he was a liar, there was physical evidence linked to him which identified him as the perpetrator, and no matter how hard he and his lawyers tried, could not be explained by intruders. The jury didn't believe his account.
Pages 35-36 Whatever may have been the case at the Article 32 Hearing, the trial prosecutors did not attempt to prove that the coffee table flips all the way over.
Pages 53-54 Contrary to Morris's assertion that there were two crime scene photographers, the one who got sick, and the one who came 6 hours later, in fact there three photographers: Staff Sergeant Alexander using a 4 X 5 Speed graphic with black and white film, who did run out of flashbulbs, but not before he had had taken numerous photos of the bodies in situ; Hugh Squires, the Fort Bragg Post photographer, who immediately followed SSG Alexander, and took a complete set of crime scene photos before the bodies were removed; and Harold "Hal" Page the CID Lab photographer who arrived from Fort Gordon after the bodies had been removed, and collection of the evidence had begun. At the Article 32 Segal showed the Page pictures to MPs like Mica, and not surprisingly the later photographs did not comport with the witness recollection; Segal tried it again at trial and the prosecutors called him on it.
Page 67 Quotes Psychiatrist Robert Sadoff's 1970 report: "he denies the use of drugs of any type, which could have stimulated an acute toxic psychotic state resulting in loss of control and explosive violence", but Morris never asked Sadoff about possible effects of Eskatrol when he interviewed him in 2012. Morris omits the reference in the same 1970 assessment by Sadoff that MacDonald's feelings of guilt at being unable to save his family "account for the deception indicated on the polygraph." This is the 1970 polygraph examination administered by Cleve Backster, which MacDonald failed.
Time line, April 23, 1971, Helena Stoeckley did not confess to Army Polygraph Examiner Robert Brisentine on April 23, 1971 to being present at the homicide.
What she said is that during a period of three to four months subsequent to the homicides, she was convinced that she participated in the murders of Colette and her two children. That she presently is of the opinion that she personally did not actively participate in these homicides, but may have been physically present at the time of the murders.
Page 85 Freddy Kassab didn't get the transcript of the Article 32 hearing from the Army, when MacDonald's mother delivered the transcripts to the Kassabs on Christmas eve, Kassab Xeroxed it.
Page 123 Victor Woerheide was never an Assistant United States Attorney.
Page 138 Statement: "But ABO blood typing does not connect a blood type with a specific individual" is misleading. Assuming Morris meant to say blood stain instead of blood type, if an ABO blood type stain is the same as the ABO blood type of an individual, then the jury may draw the inference that it came from that individual, especially if the person had bleeding injuries. Conversely, ABO blood typing can eliminate an individual as the source of the blood stain. In this case where everybody had bleeding injuries, and the three victims bled to death in the crime scene as the result of dozens of deep penetrating wounds inflicted with a sharp paring knife, it is absurd to argue, at this late date, that the blood came from intruders and not from members of the MacDonald family.
Page 138 Janice Glisson didn't testify before the grand jury that Kristen's Type O blood was found on MacDonald's eyeglasses; Segal elicits this testimony from Craig Chamberlain at trial. MacDonald did not claim to be wearing his glasses the twenty-four hours before when he worked at Hamlet Hospital, and if he wanted to subpoena the medical records of the patients he treated he could have done so in 1975.
Page 140 The assertion that an intruder, or multiple intruders, could account for the distribution of the blood stains is absurd. If not, Morris should have provided one or more logical scenarios that account for the distribution of all the blood stains and distinguishes between hippie blood and victim blood. He didn't do that. Besides, only MacDonald could have tracked the Type A blood out of Kristen's room which had no other type A stains on the floor.
Page 143 Dr. Robert Sadoff was never "called again to the stand" and there was no "powerful moment on the stand" at the grand jury investigation. There was a deal between Woerheide and Segal; MacDonald would waive his doctor-patient privilege to permit all the psychiatrists to be interviewed, and Woerheide agreed to let the jury hear Sadoff. In late January 1975, with the 5 year point approaching, Sadoff had the flu and wouldn't come to Raleigh. The government attorneys flew up to Philadelphia, interviewed Sadoff under oath and played the tape for the grand jury, as the transcript clearly reflects. Morris, who knows all about the Eskatrol notes, having read Fatal Vision, doesn't ask Sadoff in 2012 if MacDonald's admission that he took Eskatrol changes his position.
Chapter 23 The Jail Cell
Page 158 Segal didn't come to see the evidence in the jail cell; it was Wade Smith and John Thornton.
Page 158 it is bullshit to say that Thornton got the right of visitation of the evidence, but not examination. Pursuant to an order issued by Judge Dupree, Thornton came to the jail cell to select whatever he wanted to examine on the first day, and was given as he later told the FBI in 1990 "unfettered access" to the evidence. On the second day, whatever he selected, including the sheet and MacDonald's pajama top, were taken by the FBI Case Agent to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Laboratory, (SBI) which Judge Dupree had arranged to be made available to Thornton. That the blood was too old to test in 1979 using the methodology of the time, and that Thornton didn't have the time to do it as he would have liked to under California State rules, was not due to any action on the government's part, but rather because, as Thornton admits, for Bernie Segal "the physical evidence wasn't really on the front burner."
Pages 159-160 There were no discrepancies in the blood typing done by Janice Glisson at Fort Gordon and the FBI, because the FBI didn't attempt to retest any of the stains because they were too old. Thornton was given cuttings from bloodstained items which he designated. The cuttings were done by Janice Glisson about August 2, 1979 and furnished to Wade Smith against receipt. Thornton never tested them, and in 2000, when he was cleaning out his laboratory he sent them to AFIP, where they remain.
Page 174 The jury never saw the Mini-series version of Stombaugh demonstrating the pajama top reconstruction to Freddy Kassab, which in fact never occurred.
Page 175 There are not two separate sets of crime scene photos showing the pajama top in different positions and folded in different ways. There are two sets of photographs taken by SSG Alexander and Hugh Squires, which depict the pajama top on Colette's chest from different angles; none show it other than turned right sleeve inside out. The photographs taken by Hal Page from Fort Gordon don't depict the pajama top at all because it was collected before Colette's body was removed and Page arrived. It is utter bullshit to say there is disputed testimony about where the pajama top was actually found! Where is that testimony and who were the witnesses?
Page 176 It is even greater bullshit to say, as Morris does, that there are multiple ways the pajama top could have been folded to match up 48 punctures with twenty-one holes. Morris has it backwards; it is making twenty-one thrusts, through forty-eight holes in the multiple layers of the inside out pajama top to produce the same pattern of twenty-one ice pick wounds as exists on Colette's chest. If there are multiple ways to do this, Morris needs to do more than just say it (or lie about it) he needs to demonstrate it.
Page 178 There is no testimony in the record that MacDonald's pajama bottoms "were covered in blood", besides it would have looked really strange to the MPs if he had covered Colette with both the pajama top and bottoms and was bare assed when they arrived.
Page 202 Skips over who arrested Stoeckley and who really transported her to Raleigh.
Page 203 There is no mystery as to how Blackburn knew that Stoeckley had been lodged in Pickens, South Carolina; he asked the FBI to interview Stoeckley when she was arrested, and to advise him of the results, she denied all involvement. The FBI was also required by law to advise the nearest United States Magistrate where Stoeckley, who had been arrested, was lodged; the Magistrate, not Stoeckley, was in Greenville. Where Stoeckley was lodged was a fact that could have been easily checked by MacDonald's attorneys in 2005, particularly in light of Blackburn's statement in the record, before they had Britt commit himself in sworn statements. Britt got it wrong (multiple times) because he never transported Stoeckley from any place in South Carolina, and now they are stuck with a lying witness who is dead; an inconvenient truth too difficult for Morris to deal with honestly.
Page 205 It is ludicrous for Morris to claim that when the defense lawyers Segal and Smith met with Stoeckley on September 16, 1979 the day before her testimony, that they could expect that Stoeckley was their witness, and that they were surprised when she testified to a lack of memory. Although, Segal did indeed claim, falsely, that he was surprised by Stoeckley's testimony.
Page 220 Underhill is wrong when he says that a "stuffed pig" and a "crib" were depicted in the crime scene photos, and that Stoeckley recalled these details. There is no stuffed pig and there sure as hell is no crib in the pictures or the house.
Chapter 64 Specimen 91A
It wasn't "28" hair samples that went to AFDIL, it was 29 questioned specimens, and they weren't all hairs, in addition to reference samples from six individuals.
Although Dr. Hancock performed the autopsy on Kristen, the fingernail scrapings were actually taken, as the Article 32 Transcript clearly reflects, by Dr. George Gammel.
Dillard Browning did not label the vial containing the fingernail scrapings from Kristen's left hand as "#7". Morris omits Browning's testimony before the grand jury that he found a bloody cotton fiber in the fingernail scrapings which matched the cotton fibers from MacDonald's pajama top. Although Morris says he read Janice Glisson's July 27, 1970 bench notes, he totally omits the fact that she numbered the vial "not labeled by Browning" as "# 7" and mounted the hair that she found on July 27, 1970 in that vial on a slide which she also labeled "# 7", and initialed both the vial and the slide. Vial # 7, did not become D-237 or Q137, it became AFDIL Specimen 92A, and FBI Specimen "Q 137.1".
The above is just a partial list of the mistakes I found in A Wilderness Of Error. Anyone who has read Morris' book and found errors, feel free to e-mail them to me and I will add them to the list.