Pleasant Grove doctor going to trial on murder charge


PROVO — After nearly two hours of argument Thursday morning, Judge Samuel McVey walked into a Provo courtroom and ordered Martin MacNeill to stand trial for murder.

MacNeill, who was shackled and sitting across the room in a jail jumpsuit, cocked his head slightly to the left but otherwise showed no emotion as the judge read the ruling.

The decision means a jury likely will hear the evidence that in August led prosecutors to charge MacNeill with first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice. The charges stem from allegations that MacNeill killed his wife, Michele, in 2007 a week after pushing her to have plastic surgery.

After delivering his ruling Thursday, McVey provided a lengthy explanation of the case as it had been argued over nearly two weeks of testimony. Among other things, the explanation detailed how MacNeill, a doctor, was having an affair with Gypsy Willis at the time of Michele’s death. McVey went on to single out testimony by Willis and another of MacNeill’s former mistresses as being “inherently incredible.”

“It’s abundantly clear to the court that she was prevaricating or not remembering,” McVey said, referring to Willis’s statements about the casualness of her relationship with MacNeill.

Earlier Thursday morning, attorneys working the case provided additional details. First, prosecutor Chad Grunander said in addition to a motive, MacNeill had a medical background that gave him the knowledge he needed to pull off a killing.

“Martin, a doctor, would have known the risks associated with giving his wife all of those drugs,” Grunander said.

He was referring to a concoction of several drugs found in Michele’s blood after her death. Experts have disagreed about exactly what killed Michele, but several doctors previously testified that the drugs could have contributed to her death. The drugs were prescribed to Michele at MacNeill’s request by the doctor who performed her facelift a week before her death.

MacNeill was working as a medical director at the Utah State Developmental Center when Michele died.

Grunander also noted that the first time after MacNeill was left alone with Michele after her plastic surgery he overmedicated her to the point that she was completely sedated.

“Arguably almost dead, if you will, but she comes out of it and she’s OK,” Grunander added.

Michele threw up some of those drugs, Grunander went on to say, but after she died examiners found phenergan an in her blood. According to Grunander, the drug is an anti-nausea medication that could have prevented Michele from throwing up a second cocktail of drugs. After Michele was found, MacNeill also reportedly failed to provide life-saving resuscitation.

“There are a number of pieces of evidence to show that Martin staged the scene,” Grunander argued.

Later during his arguments, Grunander provided more information about MacNeill’s alleged motive. He said MacNeill was having an affair with Willis at the time, and shortly before Michele’s death had provided Willis with an apartment and a debit card. After the death, Willis began getting closer to the MacNeill family.

“The mistress was present at the funeral,” Grunander noted.

Just weeks later, MacNeill brought Willis into the home as a “nanny with benefits,” Grunander said. The MacNeill children were then gradually forced out of the home. Later, MacNeill and Willis applied for a marriage document — despite not being married — and listed Michele’s funeral date as their wedding date. Willis testified that MacNeill suggested the date.

Grunander ultimately asked McVey to send the case to trial. Acknowledging that much of the evidence was “circumstantial,” he argued that it was similar to “no body” cases in which prosecutors believe a murder occurred but don’t have a corpse to prove it. In MacNeill’s case, Michele’s body was recovered almost as soon as she died, but different experts have given different causes of death. Those causes have included drowning, heart disease and a combination of drugs and heart disease.

McVey pointed to the testimony of Dr. Joshua Perper, an expert from Florida who testified earlier in the week, as particularly illuminative. Perper testified that Michele likely died from drowning.

However, defense attorney Randy Spencer called the state’s characterization of the case baseless. Though the nature of the hearing meant nearly all of the evidence was presented by and favored prosecutors, Spencer said they had ultimately failed to prove MacNeill had committed any act that killed Michele.

“The state has not proved an act by the defendant,” he argued. “They speculate about an act and that is all we have here.”

Spencer called the state’s methods a violation of the scientific method because they began with a conclusion and worked backward from there. He also pointed out that there was a body that underwent extensive examination. Even after that examination, he added, the state’s “hired guns” wouldn’t say it was a homicide.

“This is not like a no-body case,” Spencer argued.

Throughout his comments, Spencer was frank about MacNeill’s life choices. He readily acknowledged that MacNeill had made mistakes — a possible reference to MacNeill’s multiple affairs or his previous conviction on fraud charges — but said those mistakes don’t amount to murder. He implored the court not to confuse character evidence with hard evidence.

Among other things, Spencer called the representation of the case “Hollywood-esque” but added that despite the media attention MacNeill ultimately didn’t kill his wife.

Defense attorneys briefly called one witness during the hearing, but will have their chance to provide more evidence during MacNeill’s trial. They have been adamant that MacNeill is innocent and that evidence eventually will clear him of the killing.

The judge’s ruling to move the case forward to trial did not surprise either prosecutors or defense attorneys. Following the hearing, Alexis Somers, Michele and MacNeill’s oldest daughter, said she was “so happy” with the ruling. Somers has been driving force in the investigation into her father and added Thursday that her father had spun a “web of lies.”

MacNeill’s arraignment hearing in the case was set for Oct. 22.

Leave a Reply

9 − = seven