Witnesses testify about death scene, drugs at MacNeill hearing

October 10, 2012 12:25 am  •  Jim Dalrymple – Daily Herald

PROVO – Steve Mickelson had worked with Martin MacNeill for seven years when he received a call on April 11 saying there was a problem.

“I had just received a call from Martin,” Mickelson testified Tuesday in court. “Something’s wrong at Martin’s home, and can you come over.”

Mickelson said when he arrived at the home he saw MacNeill’s wife, Michele, on the floor receiving CPR. Mickelson also testified that Michele wasn’t wearing any clothes and that a nearby bathtub was empty.

Michele never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead later that day. Mickelson’s testimony was part of MacNeill’s preliminary hearing, during which prosecutors are attempting to prove they have sufficient evidence to charge him with murder for her death. The hearing began last week and has included testimony from various experts, law enforcement officers and MacNeill family members.

Tuesday morning, Mickelson explained that in April 2007 he was working as a nurse at the Utah Developmental Center in American Fork, where MacNeill was a medical director. He had never been to the MacNeill home when he got the call about Michele being in trouble.

After arriving, Mickelson said, he saw that there were fire trucks and ambulances at the home. He went inside, but then realized there were already personnel attending to Michele. He also recalled seeing a large gash over Michele’s eye.

The gash likely came from Michele’s plastic surgery, which she had on April 3, 2007. Court documents state that MacNeill may have pressured Michele into getting the surgery. Last week MacNeill’s daughter, Alexis Somers, testified that in the following days he overmedicated Michele until she was completely sedated.

During Mickelson’s testimony, he explained that following Michele’s death MacNeill came back to work sooner than expected. Mickelson was surprised, he recalled, but said MacNeill claimed he would rather be working than sitting around. Mickelson went on to say that he saw MacNeill wearing a gold ring with a black stone in the days after Michele’s death. He also was surprised when MacNeill said he led the music at Michele’s funeral.

Following Mickelson, Dr. Gary Dawson took the stand. Dawson works as a toxicologist and discussed the series of drugs that were found in Michele’s blood after her death. The drugs included oxycodone, promethazine, zolpidem and diazepam.

According to Dawson, the combination of drugs would have had an additive effect, meaning they would have interacted with each other to produce heightened results.

“When you begin to combine the medication you begin to increase the level of sedation,” Dawson said.

Dawson also described Michele as a “drug naive” patient, which he explained was a person who didn’t have a resistance to the chemicals.

A series of other medical experts followed Dawson to the witness stand. Among them, Dr. Todd Grey testified that he believes Michele died from arrhythmia — or a problem with her heart rate — that was compounded by the drugs she had taken. Grey, the chief medical examiner for the state, conducted postmortem evaluations in the case. He also said he did not believe Michele died from arrhythmia alone, without the drugs, or from drowning.

“I did not find the physical evidence compelling enough to say ‘yes, this was a drowning,’ ” Grey testified.

Grey went on to explain that the drugs found in Michele’s blood after her death could have had a “synergistic” effect. During cross examination Grey admitted being surprised that prosecutors were pursuing murder charges.

“This is a very difficult homicide case to prove,” he added.

In addition to first-degree felony murder, MacNeill also faces one count of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. Both charges are the result of an extensive investigation prompted in part by his own daughters’ allegations that he killed Michele.

MacNeill’s hearing is scheduled to conclude later this week. Among the witnesses yet to testify is MacNeill’s former mistress Gypsy Willis. According to previous testimony, MacNeill and Willis were carrying on an affair at the time of Michele’s death. They were both convicted of fraud-related charges after trying to steal the identity of one of MacNeill’s daughters.

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