James Blackburn, 1979 Prosecutor in the U.S. vs. MacDonald
Blackburn, known as Jim to friends is one of the politest men anyone could ever meet. He
speaks in a very soft low voice, and never seems to get upset. He graduated from Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law. A family man with
two small children at the time of the trial, he was well-respected in the community and looked upon as an up and coming successful attorney.
On October 7, 1977, Blackburn was sworn in as First Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina by Joseph Branch, Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, who would later become the Court's Chief Justice.
This was his first murder trial, and as Blackburn told me, "It wasn't a whodunit, it surely was how the hell can I prove that he did it . . . and why. My feelings of morality would not come into play until Brian and I walked into the MacDonald apartment and saw, all these years later, where the murders had taken place and what was left of what was once a young and vibrant family."
Blackburn said, "I deeply believed MacDonald was guilty. But my confidence in my ability to successfully prosecute a well known former Green Beret doctor, long accused of murdering his family, and represented by two of the best trial lawyers anywhere, was a little more than I
wanted in my first murder trial. I was not at all sure I could stay in the same courtroom with
these guys. And I was it, except for Brian Murtagh, the only game in town for the government."
Blackburn and Murtagh were by no means the most experienced government attorneys. Murtagh had never tried a murder case or any type of case. But he was smart and fearless. They were neophytes in trying cases, but this was in their favor.
Blackburn said: "We were so green; we didn't know what it was we didn't know, but we had a job to do, that job was to prosecute MacDonald. They succeeded.