Trial Transcripts

August 22, 1979

Helen Fell

MR. SMITH:  Helen Fell.

(Whereupon, HELEN FELL was called as a witness, duly sworn, and testified as follows:)

D I R E C T  E X A M I N A T I O N  12:02 p.m.

Q  For the record, please, ma'am, state your name?
A  Helen Fell.
Q  Where do you live, Ms. Fell?
A  In Port Jefferson, New York.
Q  How long have you lived in New York?
A  All my life.
Q  Do you know the MacDonald family?
A  Yes.
Q  If you could move up a little closer to that microphone.
A  Yes, I do.
Q  How long have you known the MacDonald family?
A  Eighteen years.
Q  Do you know the Kassab family?
A  Yes, I do.
Q  How long have you known them?
A  Oh, probably 15 years.
Q  Do you recall a time after the death of Colette and Kim and Kris when you attended any family meeting between the Kassabs and the MacDonalds?  Just tell us when it might be and if you do recall such a meeting.
A  Yes, I do recall such a meeting taking place.  An exact date, I would really have no recollection.
Q  Where was the meeting?
A  At the Kassabs' home.
Q  Where was that?
A  In Stoneybrook on Bonnie Lane.
Q  What city is Stoneybrook?
A  It is also in New York.
Q  Who else was present at that meeting?
A  Mildred, Freddie, myself, Jeff, and Mrs. MacDonald.
Q  When you say "Mildred," do you mean Mrs. Kassab?
A  Yes.
Q  Have you known Mrs. Kassab long enough and well enough so that you are on a first name basis with her?  That is, did you call her Mildred and she called you Helen?
A  Yes.
Q  What was the purpose of that meeting, if you know?
A  Well, Jeff had made the decision to go to California to accept a position in, I believe, it was St. Mary's and he wanted to tell the Kassabs that he was going to be leaving.
Q  Who asked you to attend the meeting?
A  Mrs. MacDonald.
Q  Jeff's mother?
A  Yes.
Q  Did you have any conversations with Jeff prior to the meeting?
A  No.  You mean specifically about the meeting?
Q  Yes.
A  We had spoken -- I mean I knew he was very upset and working himself to death.
Q  Had you ever talked with Jeff any prior to that time about any reasons why he might want to go to California?
A  He said he had to get out of there.  He could not continue to live that way.
Q  Did he say what way he was living?
A  Well, in other words, living so close to the whole situation.  He just could no longer survive it.
Q  At the meeting, did you hear Jeffrey talking with the Kassabs and explaining anything to them?
A  Yes.
Q  Do you recall what he said to them?  Just answer that "yes" or "no" if you do recall or do not?
A  Yes.
Q  You do recall it?  Would you relate to the jury what you recall that Dr. MacDonald said to the Kassabs?

MR. BLACKBURN:  We would OBJECT, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  Is this offered for the purpose of establishing the truth of the statement or just the fact that a statement was made?

MR. SMITH:  No, sir, it is not offered to establish the truth.  It is offered for the purpose of showing the statement was made.

MR. BLACKBURN:  Your Honor, may we be heard on that at the Bench?

THE COURT:  You better come up if you want to be heard.

B E N C H  C O N F E R E N C E

MR. SMITH:  Judge, to the extent that we are trying to show his attitude, it would be offered for the truth, but it is for the jury to say whether he really felt what he was saying.

THE COURT:  What is the basis of your OBJECTION?

MR. BLACKBURN:  We respectfully disagree.

MR. SMITH:  I think they think, Your Honor, it might hurt them.

MR. BLACKBURN:  That is not a bad reason.

THE COURT:  I have known lawyers to OBJECT on that ground.  That is a rule, incidentally, that is not in the book, but it is honored on a daily basis.

MR. BLACKBURN:  We think it is offered for the truth of the matter asserted regardless of what counsel says.

THE COURT:  What is he going to say?  Let him just give his offer of proof.

MR. SMITH:  She is going to say he is going to be very gentle and kind to the Kassabs.  He is going to tell them that life is unbearable for him there with the memories and the sadness that he is living with and that he loves them and that they are his in-laws and he loved his family but he has got to go where he can put it behind him and live his new life.

MR. BLACKBURN:  As I understand it, Wade, he is going to come right back and say --

MR. SMITH:  (Interposing)  I will tell the Judge that right now.  I will then move to this area: after Jeff had made this statement to the Kassabs, Mrs. Kassab turned to Jeff, she leaned back against the couch, she put her arms across the back of the couch, and she reared up and she said to him, "If you do leave me, you will live to regret it."

THE COURT:  Well, I will exclude that.

MR. SMITH:  Well, Judge, I think it is competent.

THE COURT:  Well, now, if she testified to any fact concerning this thing and it were relevant to show her attitude toward him that it was out of motive or revenge or anything, that might be one thing, but I don't recall any such testimony on her part.

MR. SMITH:  I will tell you what it was.

THE COURT:  Let's get this over first.

MR. SMITH:  I think that she portrayed to the jury -- she tried to portray a woman who was deeply disappointed that her son-in-law would be the kind of person who would abandon her and her husband in a time of grief.  I think she did.  He did not stay in the bars looking for the assailants.  He did not stay and talk with them.  He did not stay and talk with them about who it might have been.  He did not stay with them and discuss the murders.

MR. MURTAGH:  Your Honor, he had already lied to them about finding the so-called person in the bar and killing him.  What happened at this time is that the Kassabs -- the statements made, they didn't speak of the investigation -- the second investigation -- as ongoing at this time.  I think what it boils down to is Jeff is saying, "I am going to just forget it and put it out of my mind," and the Kassabs are saying, "No.  We are going to pursue this.  We are going to pursue the Army.  We are going to get them to get the real killers."

THE COURT:  All right, she is here.  If she has got that explanation, you can put her back on the stand and let her show it.  Go ahead and ask your question.

(Bench Conference terminated.)

THE COURT:  Ask your question.

MR. SMITH:  Thank you, Your Honor.

Q  Ms. Fell, do you remember what Jeffrey MacDonald said at the meeting to Mr. and Mrs. Kassab?
A  Yes, essentially.
Q  If you will, tell the jury what he said.
A  He talked to them, and he was very nice to them -- very solicitous -- and just kind of explained that he felt that he had to get away from the New York area, that it was just imperative to his own sanity and that he wanted to take this position at Saint Mary's in Los Angeles.
Q  Are you continuing to tell what he said?
A  All right.
Q  Let me ask you this: in what way did he say it and speak up loudly so the jury can hear you?
A  I don't understand.
Q  Was he gentle and kind?
A  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes.  Very.
Q  Did he raise his voice at them?
A  Oh, no.
Q  Now, did Mrs. Kassab make any response to him?
A  Yes.
Q  Do you remember -- just answer yes or no -- do you remember what response she made?
A  Yes, essentially.
Q  All right, if you would speak up loudly enough so the jury can hear you and tell the jury what she said.
A  Mildred had been quite ill and she first kind of talked to Jeff, tried to talk him out of going, telling him things that, "Jeff you can't go.  I need you.  I don't trust the doctors here and, if you leave" -- you know -- "I don't trust them and" -- you know -- "I need you."  He said, "Mildred, they are very good doctors," et cetera, et cetera -- you know -- "You don't have to be concerned with that.  I will stay in touch with your doctors even from California if that will make you feel better."
     She said no; that would not do.  She wanted Jeff to stay and she also told him, "I want you to stay and mourn with me."  He said, "I can't do that, Mildred."  He said, "I just can't." And she ended up by saying, "If you leave, I will make you live to regret it."

MR. SMITH:  Thank you.  You may examine.

C R O S S - E X A M I N A T I O N  12:13 p.m.

Q  Ms. Fell, you mentioned that Mildred had been ill.  Do you know what the nature of that illness was?
A  I believe it was cancer.
Q  And did she have surgery to correct that cancer?
A  Yes; she did.
Q  Do you know whether she was on any medication or not at the time?
A  I really don't know.
Q  Would it be accurate to say that she was not in the peak of health at the time when this conference took place?
A  I think that would be very subjective.  I don't really know.
Q  I believe you testified on direct that she had been ill.
A  She had been ill and that's why she wanted Jeff to stay -- was to take care of her.
Q  Now, do you know whether this is like late 1970 or early 1971 or can you bracket it in any fashion?
A  It was just days before he left.
Q  Yeah, but could we get the year?
A  I'd be taking a stab.  I really would.  Probably '72.  I really can't say.
Q  '72?
A  I really -- as I say, I would be just --
Q  Do you know what the status of any investigations were at this time concerning this case?
A  At the time that he left?
Q  Uh-huh.
A  I don't believe there were any to my knowledge.
Q  Well, are you sure?
A  I wouldn't know if there was an investigation going on.  I mean -- you know -- it's possible, sir.  I really don't know.

MR. MURTAGH:  No further questions.

MR. SMITH:  We have no further questions.  Thank you.

THE COURT:  Call your next witness.

(Witness excused.)