EXCLUSIVE: On the verge of trial — A look at the case against Dr. Martin MacNeill
Last minute motions and preparation have begun for the murder trial of the once prominent Pleasant Grove doctor, Martin MacNeill, accused of murdering his wife in their bathtub. With jury selection scheduled to begin next Tuesday, and testimony expected to begin Thursday, we take a quick look back at the death of Michele MacNeill nearly six years ago and the testimony we can expect to hear at trial.
Prosecutors allege that MacNeill, 57, orchestrated an elaborate plan to murder his wife Michele, 50, in order to continue an extra-marital affair with his mistress Gypsy Willis. MacNeill, who attended both law school and medical school, is accused of convincing his wife to undergo facial cosmetic surgery and then during her recovery giving her a “drug cocktail” — consisting of the sedatives Valium, Phenergan (anti-nausea or cough-suppressant), Ambien (sleep medication), and Oxycodone (powerful opiate) – which rendered the mother of four helpless to prevent her husband from drowning her in the bathtub.
An initial autopsy in 2007 determined that Michele MacNeill’s death was “natural,” the result of chronic hypertension and myocarditis. However, after a review in 2010, the manner of death was changed to “undetermined” and attributed to heart disease and drug toxicity.
Michele’s body was reportedly discovered by their six-year-old daughter Ada MacNeill who walked into the bathroom to find her mother motionless in the water with her eyes still open.
Defense attorney Susanne Gustin has filed a motion to prevent Ada MacNeill, now 12-years-old, from testifying. Gustin argues that Ada’s testimony is tainted because she was initially interviewed by her older sister, Alexis Somers, instead of an expert investigator trained to properly handle child interviews. During arguments on the motion Tuesday Gustin said it is highly unusual for a witness to interview another witness, especially a child, and the fact that it was orchestrated by law enforcement is even more disturbing.
Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander has admitted that the interview was not ideal but that Somers never suggested any answers to her younger sister – who she has since adopted – and her testimony has not been tainted.
Judge Derek Pullan did not rule on the issue but asked that Somers and the two investigators involved in the interview testify at the beginning of trial, so the interview with Ada can be addressed.
“I do believe it’s troubling that an investigator in the case instructed a witness to interview a child,” Pullan said.
Key evidence in the trial will be the 911 calls made by MacNeill after he allegedly found Michele’s body. According to prosecutors MacNeill made several frantic 911 phone calls but then hung up in order to delay medical response teams and lied to police about performing resuscitation in an effort to hinder the investigation.
Prosecutors also allege that MacNeill behaved erratically when medical personnel arrived and immediately ordered the disposal of Michele’s various prescription medications. According to his daughters, MacNeill told them the police took the medications.
MacNeill, 57, was charged in August 2012 with murder, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.
In the years since Michele’s death her daughters have carried the torch in the fight to convict their father, appearing in court recently with other family members holding photos of their mother.
“She [Michele MacNeill] means so much to so many people and this is who he took away from everyone, this is our mother,” Alexis Somers, MacNeill’s daughter, told the press. “I think he drugged my mother and drowned her. It’s been horrifying, and horrifying that we had to wait for this day so long.”
MacNeill’s attorney, Randy Spencer, said, “He’s adamantly professed his innocence from the beginning and continues to do so. I’m confident when all the evidence is heard that the jury will conclude he’s not guilty.”
Judge Pullan heard 11 motions in total on Tuesday, several of which address the admissibility of witness testimony.
Pullan also ruled on defense motions to exclude testimony from two federal prison inmates and a Utah County jail inmate, arguing that they had lied to law enforcement in the past, and their testimony was unreliable. The judge stated that it is the jury’s responsibility to determine the credibility of the witnesses, and he will allow the testimony provided that prosecutors inform defense attorneys of any plea agreements that were extended to the inmates in exchange for their testimony.
Additionally, defense attorneys argued that the obstruction of justice charge should be dismissed because the statute of limitations had lapsed. The statute requires that charges be brought within four-years, but it does not run if the defendant is out-of-state. MacNeill spent much of the four-year statute of limitation in a federal prison in Texas for fraud charges. The defense argued that MacNeill was removed from Utah involuntarily and incarcerated; therefore, the statute should have continued to run. Judge Pullan denied the defense motion Tuesday.
It is not clear whether the mistress, Gypsy Willis, will be called to testify during the trial. She testified at MacNeill’s preliminary hearing in October, 2012.
Prosecutors will have to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove their case. The murder trial is expected to last five weeks.
Ryan Kerns, Esq., Wild About Trial
Copyright 2013 Wild About Trial. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.