Dr. Martin MacNeill

Judge: doctor must stand trial for the murder of his wife

After five days of testimony and hours of argument in a preliminary hearing, a judge ruled Thursday that Dr. Martin MacNeill must stand trial for the murder of his wife. MacNeill, 56, is charged with murder and obstructing justice in the 2007 death of his 50-year-old wife Michele MacNeill.

“The court believes there is probable cause to believe that MacNeill died by drowning and was subjected to drowning by the defendant,” Fourth District Judge Samuel McVey said in court Thursday. “There is certainly motive in this case – a long-term relationship with a paramour… This would not be the first case in which someone killed a spouse to replace that spouse.”

Gypsy Jillian Willis, the woman accused of having an affair with MacNeill, testified on Wednesday that her relationship with MacNeill began in 2005, nearly two years before Michele’s death. She was hired as the nanny for MacNeill’s children shortly after their mother’s passing. Rachel MacNeill, the daughter, testified that Willis did no actual nanny work and that her father said he intended to marry her. In fact, in his decision, McVey made a point to mention that MacNeill and Willis later reported themselves to be married, listing their wedding date as the day of his deceased wife’s funeral.

Willis’ former roommates also testified that Willis said she wanted to get rid of MacNeill’s wife and “cut her brakes.”

“It’s a whole web of lies, and he almost got away with it. Let’s hope the jury convicts my father,” said MacNeill’s daughter Alexis Somers after Thursday’s hearing. “It’s kind of surreal. This is someone I looked up to and loved most of our lives, and we thought he loved us, but instead he murdered my mother.”

The prosecution, as well MacNeill’s own daughters, believe that the Pleasant Grove doctor gave his wife a debilitating cocktail of drugs and drowned her in a bathtub. Her body was discovered upside down in reddish brown water by their six-year-old daughter. The toxicology report showed the presence of four potent prescription medications in her system – Ambien, Valium, Oxycodone, and Phenergan.

Several forensic experts and doctors testified at the five-day preliminary hearing. Dr. Joshua Perper, retired Chief Medical Examiner of Broward County with 45 years of experience, testified Wednesday that McNeill died from drowning. However, Utah State medical examiner Dr. Todd Grey and his former employee Dr. Maureen Frikke testified earlier in the preliminary hearing that they believe the cause of death to be a combination of heart disease and drug toxicity. Dr. Frikke, who died several years ago, performed the initial
autopsy on McNeill.

All of the doctors agreed that the drug cocktail would have had a major sedative effect that may have contributed to MacNeill’s death, but that none of the levels of each drug found in her system likely caused her death.

“The state needs to show that Martin MacNeill committed an act that caused the death of another. It doesn’t articulate that there needs to be a specific, overt act proven under a specific theory,” Utah County Deputy District Attorney Chad Grunander said in his closing statements.

In his closing he referred to testimony that MacNeill pressured his wife into getting plastic surgery, then heavily sedated her the night after the surgery, demonstrating experience with using a heavy drug cocktail on his wife.

He also pointed to testimony from one of MacNeill’s former mistresses, Anna Osborne Walthall, who testified that MacNeill said he tried to kill his mother by mixing a cocktail of drugs with alcohol and that he drowned his suicidal brother.

The defense argued that this case should not go to a jury because the prosecution failed to show that MacNeill’s death was even a homicide, citing the autopsy designation as “undetermined.”

“There’s simply no evidence to support that,” Spencer said. “This is just wild speculation. … [Prosecutors have] taken an approach to this case that started with a conclusion, the conclusion being: ‘We think Martin MacNeill killed Michele,’ and they’re working backward and taking a shotgun approach to find anything that supports that conclusion.”

An arraignment hearing has been set for October 22.

Ryan Kerns, Esq., Wild About Trial

Copyright 2012 Wild About Trial. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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