Here is another one of those “only in Princeton” stories. Last week’s U.S. 1 had not been in the news box at the corner of Witherspoon and Nassau streets for more than a few hours on May 8 when we received an e-mail from a reader who had picked up a paper from that box and had worked his way back to the column by Richard K. Rein on page 44 of that issue.
The column was about two books that came out this spring and presented the biographies of courageous women spies operating independently of each other in Nazi occupied France. At the very end of the column, after recounting the stories of the spies and their biographers, Rein reminisced about a man he had interviewed long ago, Fred Kassab, who had parachuted into the Nazi zone six times, despite an offer to be exempted from further missions if he survived the first one.
Kassab never talked about those exploits, but he gained fame as the man who for nine years pursued Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton alumnus from the early 1960s and the Green Beret surgeon whose wife and two daughters were murdered at Fort Bragg, NC, in 1970. MacDonald’s wife was the stepdaughter of Kassab, who eventually doubted MacDonald’s alibi and fought to have him tried in federal court after an Army inquiry failed to convict him. Thanks to Kassab’s doggedness, MacDonald is now serving a life sentence.
The reference to MacDonald caught the eye of the reader. He wrote to alert us to the work of another Princeton alumnus from that same era, a Harvard Law School graduate and professor named Harvey Silverglate.
A criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer, Silverglate, on his website, proclaims that he has been “taking unpopular stances since 1967.” One unpopular stance has been supporting Jeff MacDonald, who still maintains his innocence and claims that his trial was tainted by substantial procedural errors.
Though Silverglate and MacDonald were both on the campus at the same time, the lawyer does not recall meeting the future convict. But, Silverglate notes, “We did have one thing in common. We each had a deep interest in the pitfalls of the criminal justice system — MacDonald from the vantage point of a prisoner sentenced to life for murder, and I as a criminal defense lawyer and writer about how the system sometimes goes off the rails.”
Rein says he wishes he had the time to dig into the MacDonald case, but he offers a quick opinion: MacDonald has had a long history of convincing people he is innocent, only to have those people later change their mind. One major example was journalist Joe McGinnis, whose 1983 book, “Fatal Vision,” began as a work for hire — MacDonald paying McGinnis to write about his side of the story and allowing the author full access and even living with him during one of the legal proceedings. The final book came down on the side of the prosecution.
Rein the editor still trusts the instincts of Kassab, whose character was tested among the resisters in German-occupied France.