Murtagh today is unrecognizable from the news photos of him on the day of the verdict 33 years ago — a skinny nebbish in front of microphones, dressed in the unflattering florid polyester of the time. It was only his second trial ever. (He’d lost the first, against a distributor of dirty magazines.) During the final tense mornings of the trial, Murtagh would wake up, then throw up.
Responsibility for the huge case had fallen into his inexperienced hands by default in 1975, when the original lead prosecutor, Victor Worheide, died suddenly of a heart attack.
Murtagh has had an unconventional career: Half his professional life, he estimates, has been consumed by two cases only: the prosecution of Jeffrey MacDonald and the prosecution of the Libyan intelligence officer who masterminded the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. He won them both.
Murtagh and I are in his living room. He’s remembering how he first got involved with the MacDonald case, back in 1971, as an Army lawyer. A police investigator was showing him the crime-scene photos, trying to urge him to join the prosecution. They got to a certain picture, the one he and I are looking at right now.