Michele MacNeill can’t be called “the victim” at murder trial

PROVO — Just two weeks before Martin MacNeill is scheduled to stand trial for the murder of his wife, Michele, a number of motions are still in the process of being ruled on.

Monday afternoon, 4th District Judge Derek Pullan ruled on a motion filed by the defense regarding a number of statements the prosecution can and cannot make during the trial including calling Michele a victim.

Pullan instructed both attorneys to make sure their witnesses knew not to refer to Michele as a victim, emphasizing the need to tell police witnesses who have the tendency to make that mistake. Prosecuting attorney Chad Grunander said that the ruling was expected.

“It touches on a person being presumed innocent until proven guilty and making sure that presumption stays in place until all the evidence is presented,” Grunander said.

Michele’s sister Linda Cluff, however, was disappointed with the ruling.

“I consider her a victim so that is hard to hear,” Cluff said. “We have full faith in the prosecution though.”

Pullan also said that the state cannot make statements regarding the morality of MacNeill or suggest that he should be convicted for murder because he was having an affair. Prosecutors said those things directly violate rules on ethics and agreed to follow all the rules.

Monday morning, Pullan ruled on a motion from the state to keep TV cameras out of the courtroom during the five-week trial.

Grunander argued that there are several witnesses who are inmates in the federal prison system that are afraid that if they testify they could be labeled as a “snitch” and would be in danger. Grunander said that the testimony these witnesses would provide include confessions from MacNeill about how and why he killed Michele.

Randy Spencer, defense attorney, said that photos and information about those inmates are available to the media through other outlets and that there is no reason to exclude media coverage for that purpose. Spencer, however, did express concern about jury safety should TV cameras be allowed in the courtroom. He cited the backlash the jurors in the George Zimmerman case, saying that is something that could happen in this case.

Pullan ruled that cameras are allowed in the courtroom but that the two inmates in question will be referred to as “inmate one” and “inmate two” throughout the trial and that no photos or images of them may be shown in the media. The inmates’ testimony may still be presented, meaning audio of their testimony can still be played or used by the media.

Pullan also ruled on a number of motions regarding witnesses and the statements they can make. Pullan said that Alexis Somers cannot testify that her mother, Michele, told her that, “If anything happens to me make sure it wasn’t your dad.” Pullan says that the statement hinges more on what wasn’t said and that the inference could be the Michele believed MacNeill was trying to kill her and that would bring in unfair prejudice to MacNeill.

“We won some and we lost some. Obviously we’d be happier if we won them all,” Grunander said. “We look forward to presenting our case and will put our best case forward.”

There was no comment on the hearing or the motions from Spencer.

The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 15 and run four days a week through Nov. 15th. The defense and state still have 10 more motions to argue and jurors to select before the trial can begin. MacNeill will be back in court Oct. 8 for the final oral arguments before trial.

MacNeill is charged with one count of first-degree felony murder and one count of second-degree felony obstruction of justice for the 2007 death of his wife Michele.

Paige Fieldsted – Daily Herald

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