MacNeill sisters testify in Utah murder trial; deny coaching younger sister
PROVO, Utah (AP) — Two sisters testified Thursday that their father — a former Utah doctor — was eager to demonstrate how their mother ended up dead in a bathtub, and how quickly he introduced a nanny who became his lover.
During Martin MacNeill’s murder trial, one daughter declared she believes he killed their mother and the other recalled that he sought to clear himself of any suspicion hours after the death.
“He didn’t want anyone to think he murdered my mother,” said Rachel MacNeill, the oldest of eight siblings, who said she found her father’s effort to clear himself jarring in 2007 when she was grieving her mother’s unexplained death.
“It was so shocking to me,” Rachel MacNeill testified. “I said, ‘Why would anyone think that?'”
She spoke haltingly, trembling as she tried to maintain her composure. The judge had to call a break early in her testimony when she was unable to speak. She avoided looking at her father in the courtroom.
At the beginning of her testimony, Rachel MacNeill said while growing up, her father was her best friend, and that she was closer with him than her mother. When she first heard of her mother’s death, she didn’t suspect her father, she said. On her drive over to the house after hearing about the death, her focus was on comforting her father.
But her suspicions quickly grew based on his actions in the weeks following her mother’s death. She described a family lunch after their mother’s funeral that turned sour.
Her father was “commenting on how he’s a single man now, and he kept it very casual,” Rachel MacNeill said. “He was making jokes about being single, and he was laughing. It made me sick. I left.”
Earlier Thursday, another sister testified that the account by her father about finding his wife unresponsive in the tub conflicts with other eyewitness accounts.
Alexis Somers, a doctor herself, is a guardian for the family’s youngest daughter, a key witness in the case whose appearance at the trial awaits a ruling by the judge.
Somers said she never coached the then-6-year-old sister about what to tell police in Utah after the child was the first to find their mother unresponsive in a bathtub in 2007. Her testimony came during a special hearing held by the trial judge to determine if he’ll allow Ada MacNeill, now 12, to take the witness stand.
Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan issued no immediate ruling as he resumed the trial Thursday. He is trying to determine if Ada MacNeill has her own independent memory of what happened. Jurors were not present during the hearing.
MacNeill, 57, is accused of hounding his wife Michele MacNeill to have a face-lift then mixing a lethal combination of drugs for her recovery and helping her into the tub.
The 2007 death shocked the Mormon community of Pleasant Grove, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City, because the suspect was a doctor and had been a church leader. MacNeill has since surrendered his medical license
The trial, in its second week, will continue Friday with testimony expected from MacNeill’s alleged mistress. The trial is expected to last at least one month.
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