Notorious Killer Wants Compassionate COVID Release—After Refusing Vaccine
Jeffrey MacDonald, who infamously murdered his pregnant wife and two girls, says he needs to get out of prison because he’s vulnerable to COVID. So why did he refuse a vaccine?
As millions of Americans were desperately seeking the COVID-19 vaccine, the imprisoned former Army Green Beret physician from the famous “Fatal Vision” murder case was one of at least four inmates who turned down a shot and still sought early release because of the virus.
Jeffrey MacDonald declined the offer of a Moderna vaccine on March 2 at the federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland, where he is serving a life sentence for the 1970 stabbing and bludgeoning deaths of his pregnant wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 2-year-old Kristen and 5-year-old Kimberly.
But that did not stop his lawyers from arguing in Raleigh federal court Thursday that kidney trouble makes him so vulnerable to COVID-19 that he merits compassionate release.
The thought that MacDonald would ask for a compassionate anything outraged his former brother-in-law, Bill Stevenson. Tears filled Stevenson’s eyes as he delivered a victim impact statement to the court. He held up a photo of Colette from more than half a century ago.
“This is the sister I lost,” he told the judge.
Stevenson then held up a picture of Kimberly.
“This is Kimmy,” he said. “I miss her today. I’m her uncle.”
Stevenson said of MacDonald, “This man should never be allowed to walk the face of the Earth again. What he did, it is unspeakable. Unthinkable.”
Afterward, Stevenson spoke to The Daily Beast.
“How can a man who had no compassion as he murdered his family and disfigured their bodies ask for compassionate release?” Stevenson said. “He doesn’t know compassion.”
He added, “This is a crime for which there almost cannot be sufficient punishment. He should never walk the face of the Earth again. He should die.”
Stevenson reported that his hearing is not as good as it used to be, so he was unable to follow some of the proceeding. But he had read the court papers and understood that MacDonald’s petition hinges on the killer’s supposed vulnerability to COVID-19.
To that, the government had filed a document titled “NOTICE OF REFUSAL OF COVID-19 VACCINATION AND SUPPLEMENTAL RESPONSE IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR COMPASSIONATE RELEASE”:
“The Defendant was offered a COVID-19 vaccination on March 2, 2021 and refused it,” the document reports. “In asserting that ‘extraordinary and compelling’ reasons justified his release… MacDonald relied exclusively on his ‘vulnerability to COVID-19’ given certain risk factors that he identified, including chronic kidney disease, a history of skin cancer, and hypertension.”
The document notes that during the run-up to the prison vaccination program, McDonald had been given a rapid antigen test that was positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 11, 2021. But he had never experienced symptoms and that should not have prevented him from accepting the shot.
“The government is not aware of any evidence that MacDonald falls within the categories of individuals for whom the Moderna vaccine is medically contraindicated or even for whom precautions are indicated by the CDC Clinical Considerations,” the document says. “Available medical records indicate that MacDonald has never had a symptomatic case of COVID-19, has never received monoclonal antibody therapy, was not administered another vaccine within 14 days before being offered the Moderna vaccine, did not have an acute non-COVID illness when offered the Moderna vaccine, and does not have a history of allergic reactions to other vaccines, anaphylaxis, or other significant allergies—the latter of which simply requires a monitoring period after administration of the vaccine in accordance with the Guidance.”
The document added, “In fact, medical associations support vaccination via mRNA vaccines such as the Moderna vaccine for individuals like MacDonald who suffer from chronic kidney disease (“CKD”), given that the perceived benefits of vaccination are significant in light of the known risks of COVID-19 infection to people with CKD. 9.”
In other words, there seems to have been nothing to stop MacDonald from accepting the vaccine that would protect him from the virus, if he even needed it if the asymptomatic case accorded him some measure of immunity.
The most logical reason for MacDonald not having just rolled up his sleeve and gotten a shot was that it would have voided his argument for release due to the threat of the virus.
“He’s a fraud,” Stevenson told The Daily Beast. “A fraud as well as a murderer.”
At least three and likely more of federal inmates have refused shots and then sought compassionate release because of COVID-19. John Lohmeier is petitioning in Illinois federal court to get out early on a securities fraud conviction despite twice refusing what so many want.
“The medical records indicate that the defendant has already been offered (and rejected) not one, but two vaccines,” court papers report.
The court papers note that Lohmeier is in a minimum security prison in Wisconsin, having been sentenced in 2016 for “a securities fraud scheme that resulted in the loss of more than $8 million by hundreds of victims. He has been in custody on that sentence since August 30, 2016.”
The papers scoff at a petition based on a vulnerability that Lohmeier could have ended simply by accepting an offer he had twice declined.
“The circumstances of this case are neither ‘extraordinary’ nor ‘compelling,’” the papers say.
In other words, it is a fraudster’s fraud, a con’s con.
And then there is Xiomara Gonzalez Zambrano, who was sentenced to 63 months in 2018 for delivering 2,591 grams of methamphetamine for a drug gang while driving through Iowa with two of her daughters. She applied for compassionate release in August of last year because she was vulnerable to COVID.
“Although she requests that the Court take immediate action to reduce her sentence and release her due to the threat of COVID-19, she herself was not willing to inoculate herself against that same disease,” Iowa federal Judge C.J. Williams found. “Although the defendant has a right to refuse medical treatment, the Court finds that it would be inappropriate to reward her refusal to protect herself by granting her release. It would be paradoxical to endorse a system whereby a defendant could manufacture extraordinary and compelling circumstances for compassionate release by unreasonably refusing the health care afforded to them.”
And there is Cory Williams, who was sentenced to 84 months on a 2018 money laundering conviction in Arizona federal court. He filed in September 2020 for compassionate release from the Federal Correctional Institution Tucson, where more than 40 percent of the inmates had tested positive for COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 case rate among incarcerated individuals was more than four times that of the U.S. population and the mortality rate was twice as high,” Arizona federal Judge Douglas Rayes subsequently noted. “Defendant asserts in his motion that there is a lack of common-sense precautions employed at the FCI Tucson facility.”
Williams argued that he was at particular risk because he is obese, suffers from asthma, and has a heart murmur.
“However, Defendant has not presented facts that contradict the Government's description of him as ‘a healthy 43-year-old who is slightly overweight and appears to suffer from a mild case of asthma,” Reyes found. “The records show that he has a mild case of exercise-induced asthma. He has not needed an inhaler for over ten years, and he wheezes only when he works out. Defendant presents no evidence that a heart murmur has been classified as a condition that places him at higher risk should he become infected with the COVID-19 virus.”
Williams’ petition was already shaky when he appeared in court for oral arguments at the end of January.
“Defendant admitted to the Court that on January 6, 2021, he was offered the vaccine, but refused it,” Reyes noted. “The Court finds his explanation for refusal, that he did not trust the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization process, to be incredible in light of his claim that his risk of a serious illness from the COVID-19 virus is an extraordinary and compelling reason for his immediate release.”
Reyes’ Feb. 1 decision should have come as no surprise.
“IT IS ORDERED that Defendant’s Emergency Motion to Reduce Sentence... Compassionate Release (Including Release Due to COVID-19)...is DENIED.”
When it came to Jeffrey MacDonald on Thursday, Judge Terrence Boyle was not prepared to make a quick ruling and reserved decision. This is a famous case and, as the News Observer noted, the judge was prompted to correct the prosecutor when he said it happened 50 years ago.
“Fifty-one years,” Boyle said. “It was Feb. 17, 1970.”
Stevenson headed home saying he was glad he had made the trip.
“The point was really to put a face on the people that were disassembled by him,” he told The Daily Beast.
Stevenson was not happy that MacDonald’s lawyers had started intimating that their client is innocent, citing an often discussed unmatched hair supposedly found at the crime scene.
“In every person’s house anywhere in the world there are hairs from other people,” Stevenson said.
He praised the government for taking such good care of him.
“I left a hat in my hotel,” he said. “They sent somebody to get it.”
He had his hat as well as a cane he had briefly misplaced with him as he grabbed a hamburger at the airport. His wife, Vivian, who is 80, was waiting for him at home in Massachusetts.
When she spoke to The Daily Beast earlier in the day, Vivian had also sputtered at the language in MacDonald’s petition.
“Compassionate?” Vivian asked. “Release?”
Her son and daughter had been about the same age as their murdered cousins, and then suddenly they were gone.
“They used to play together,” Vivian said. “They used to take baths together. I had to lie. I said, ‘They’re in Germany.’”
Vivian and her husband are of an age where they had as much opportunity as a federal inmate to get a shot. They had both taken theirs. One worry they still have about the virus is that MacDonald will somehow be able to parlay the pandemic into an early release.
“I don’t want him out of prison,” Bob Stevenson said on Thursday evening. “Not ever.”