Dr. Martin MacNeill

Dr. Martin MacNeill: Legal Commentary

Gypsy Willis arrives at court Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, in Provo, Utah. Photo / AP - Rick Bowmer-We all waited with bated breath for Gypsy’s testimony but what we got fell extremely short. Here’s what our founder and the creator of  Wild About trial thinks of the prosecutor’s direct examination of Gypsy Willis:

Oct. 29, 2013  – As a trial attorney myself, I believe that the prosecutor blew a golden opportunity to prove motive. If Dr. Martin MacNeill murdered his wife, Gypsy Willis was his reason for doing so. The prosecution failed to properly question her even after the Judge ruled that she could be treated as a hostile witness. She was never made to squirm. She was never asked if she was remorseful about carrying on an affair with a married man. She was never asked if moving into the house he shared with his wife weeks after her death was wrong. She was never asked to explain why she would carrying on a text conversation with Dr. MacNeill during his wife’s funeral and how inappropriate that was. The prosecution should have more thoroughly walked her through the number of phone calls and text messages they exchanged. The prosecution should have hammered home the amount of lies they told in an effort to conceal their relationship. She was never asked about how deep her love was/is for him and that only his incarceration has kept them apart. Instead, the jury was left with the impression that this was a casual affair and that Dr. MacNeill never intended to leave his wife for Gypsy. In sum, the prosecution completely blew a golden opportunity to prove motive. An opportunity that may cost them the case.

Alison Triessl, founder of Wild About Trial

In this Oct. 10, 2012, file photo, Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife in 2007, appears in Judge Samuel McVey's Fourth District Court, in Provo, Utah, for the first day of preliminary hearings. Jury selection in MacNeil's trial begins Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. The trial is expected to run for six weeks. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Al Hartmann, Pool, File)Pre-Trial Commentary – Interestingly, the Utah county medical examiner never determined homicide as the cause of Michele MacNeill’s death. After the 2007 autopsy, the cause of death was “natural,” the cause of chronic hypertension and myocarditis. In 2010, the Utah County Chief Medical Examiner evaluated Michele’s body and changed the cause of death to “undetermined,” possibly caused by the combined effects of chronic heart disease and drug toxicity. Other experts have weighed in, believing that Michele was drugged with a lethal dose of medication. But for a jury, the county medical examiner’s report will hold some real weight, and there’s a big difference between “undetermined,” and “homicide.”

One thing county prosecutors hope to prove is that MacNeill interfered with the first medical examination by providing false information. However, that still does not alter the second medical examiner’s inconclusive findings. If Michele had a heart condition, she would have been at risk for sudden death no matter what drugs she was taking – although the particular cocktail alleged certainly could not have helped.

Causation is a huge component of a murder case. Even though MacNeill appears to have a motive – getting out of the marriage to be with Gypsy – and even though he’s done a lot of strange and criminal things in his life, it might be hard to explicitly link him to Michele’s cause of death. With what we know about the case now, much of that evidence is purely circumstantial.

Kelly Sheahen Gerner

Copyright 2013 Wild About Trial. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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J says:

I think the prosecution missed an opportunity yesterday when Gypsy admitted MacNeil had given her a car. Whose car was it? Did he give her Michele’s car?

Also, why didn’t they ask Gypsy if MacNeil had ever given her any of Michele’s personal items like jewelry, etc., and if so, what were the items, and how long after Michele’s death did she receive those items.

THOM says:


Simply Addicted says:

I have been watching so closely to this trial from day one and there are so many questions that I would have asked the witness as it pertains to this case and then the state fails to do it. It is frustrating at times that the state is not building a better case. Alexis was being grilled by the defending attorney about her testimony of her mothers pattern of taking a bath. Did it ever occur to the state to bring up the fact that over the estimated 18 years of living with her mother that they lived in different houses and the pattern changed based on the floor plan of the rooms? You could tell by the past testimony that the answer was slightly different and it was based on memories of childhood to the last time she saw her mother take a bath in the new house.
Then, Yesterday the testimony of the prison inmates was so vague and not supportive to the state in any manner that it was a waste of time. The only thing that I would have asked is how much could he bench press or lift while ya’ll were working out. He claimed that he couldn’t lift his wife out of the tub because she was 180. Well-can he lift 180 in the yard of the prison?
Why isn’t the State doing more to help the case against this man that I fully believe had something to do with the death of his wife?

Lara Martinez says:

I agree to a point, but the tone of the entire proceeding is very muted. The defense is not aggressive in their questioning–even when impeaching a witness.

I think that the jury got a good look at Ms. Gypsy’s stripper glue-on eyelashes and her caked on face powder that cracked when she gave that simpering smile during questioning. I think she came off as uncomfortable and defensive, affecting a light-hearted, casual manner when discussing the fact that she pretended to be married to a man who just lost his first wife.

The jury learned that she is a convicted felon who is getting a deal from the prosecution for testifying; she admitted to being the “other woman” who goes by other names; she participated in a staged meeting with MM’s daughter at the Mormon temple in order to ingratiate herself into their home posing as the “nanny;” she admitted to texting MM during the funeral.

The jury now has an impression of this grifter as a criminal who is a liar and someone who has no human compassion for a woman’s death.

I think it went pretty well–I just don’t think going into aggressive detail with her would have uncovered any different information for the jury.

WAT Watcher says:

Dear Ms. Triessl;

I agree with your comments.

Even though I know a lot about this case, I was still taken aback when the military ID paperwork listed the marriage date for Gypsy/Jillian and Dr. MacNeill as April 14, 2007 – unbelievable.

Is there anyway you can send a message to the prosecutors? It is obviously too late in regards to Ms. Gypsy/Jillian Willis/MacNeill’s testimony but perhaps you could offer your advice for future witnesses.

I think the prosecutors need to watch some youtube of F. Lee Bailey, Johnny Cochran, Gerry Spence or even the video of Henry Fonda portraying Clarence Darrow. I realize the attorneys I mention are defense attorneys, however, a little more pressure – as your comments state – would be helpful.

NancyB says:

You said: “Causation is a huge component of a murder case. Even though MacNeill appears to have a motive – getting out of the marriage to be with Gypsy – and even though he’s done a lot of strange and criminal things in his life, it might be hard to explicitly link him to Michele’s cause of death. With what we know about the case now, much of that evidence is purely circumstantial.”

Hopefully not. In any circumstantial case, there are always unexplained tidbits and gaps in the evidence. But many mosaic pieces can be missing and one can still figure out — with absolute certainty — what the picture is. How many letters can be missing when you are absolutely certain of the “Wheel of Fortune” word puzzle? Many juries fail to understand the validity of circumstantial evidence and pooh-pooh it. What the defense would have us believe is if there is no eyewitness to a murder nobody should ever be charged with the crime of murder regardless of what the circumstantial evidence shows. There is plenty of evidence there for the jury to do their job. Hopefully they will not chose to ignore it.

Apparently, many jurors do not understand the meaning and/or the significance of circumstantial evidence. Most criminal cases are based on circumstantial evidence. Because most criminals do not commit their crimes in front of witnesses. A witness provides direct evidence. All other evidence is circumstantial. When properly investigated, the circumstantial evidence put together by law enforcement and prosecutors can be just as persuasive (sometimes more so since witnesses can lie or be mistaken) as direct evidence. If circumstantial evidence was not considered strong evidence (when obtained through proper and thorough investigation) then no criminal would ever be successfully prosecuted. When you rule out the impossible, the prosecution’s proof — sufficient to support a conviction — becomes irrefutable. Hopefully at least one juror will see fit to press that view.


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