When Colette and Jeffrey MacDonald arrived in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in August 1969, they quickly became close friends with another military couple, Rick and Judy Thoesen.
They came to the MacDonald’s home many times over the next several months and spent Thanksgiving with the family while Colette whipped up a tasty Thanksgiving meal for about 25 people.
They quickly found their friendship tested.
On Feb. 17, 1970, MacDonald’s wife, Colette, 26, and daughters Kimberley, 5, and Kristen, 2, were brutally murdered at their home. Jeffrey was the sole survivor.
• For more on the Jeffrey MacDonald case, watch “The Accused” on our 10-part true crime show, People Magazine Investigates, airing Monday night at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.
Judy, a nurse, now 69, visited MacDonald at the hospital just hours after the murders. She and Rick, now 72, were at the funerals and say their support of him never wavered — even after he was charged with the murders.
MacDonald was first charged by the Army, but he was exonerated. In Jan. 1975, however, he was charged by federal authorities. He was convicted in 1979 and sentenced to three consecutive life terms. The case is the focus of the upcoming People Magazine Investigates episode “The Accused,” which airs Monday night at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.
The Thoesens have remained two of MacDonald’s staunchest supporters to this day.
MacDonald has never stopped saying he’s innocent, but prosecutors remain just as adamant that he is guilty. On January 26, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on his “actual innocence” claim, a legal term that sets a high bar for exonerations.
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U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce declined to comment on the case, saying in a statement to PEOPLE: “When cases are pending court proceedings, it is the practice of our office to litigate the case in court—through evidence and argument in hearings and in written filings with the court—rather than through the news media.”