Final pretrial hearing held in Martin MacNeill murder case

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife appears in Judge Sam McVey’s Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday October 10 for his preliminary hearing.

October 09, 2013 12:25 am  •  Paige Fieldsted – Daily Herald

PROVO — In the final hearing before Martin MacNeill stands trial for murder a number of motions were ruled in hopes of making the extensive trial run smoothly and without interruptions.

Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan ruled that prosecutors cannot elicit opinions about whether or not MacNeill grieved appropriately or not following the death of his wife, Michele. Prosecutors may call on witnesses to describe how MacNeill acted and what they saw and heard but the decision as to whether that was appropriate grief will be left to jury.

Judge Pullan also denied a motion to dismiss the obstruction of justice charge against MacNeill. Defense attorney Randy Spencer argued that the statute of limitations had run out and it wasn’t his clients fault that he was in federal prison in Texas and couldn’t be prosecuted before the statute ran out. Pullan denied the motion saying that MacNeill made the choice to be in Texas by committing a federal crime in a state where there is no federal prison.

Judge Pullan also ruled that several federal inmates and at least one former Utah County Jail inmate can testify at the trial. Spencer argued that the inmates are inherently unreliable and are therefore not competent to testify. Judge Pullan said that the defense could show unreliability through cross examination and that there was no legal reason as to why the inmates testimony should be excluded from trial. Pullan, however, did order that the Utah County Attorney’s Office disclose any offers or deals that have been given to or will be given to the inmates based on their cooperation at trial.

Several other motions that dealt with the kind of testimony that can be brought in at trial were ruled upon and a few motions were reserved until trial.

A motion to exclude the testimony of child witness, Ada MacNeill, was also argued. Ada was six when her mother died and testified to finding her mother in the bathtub at a preliminary hearing last year. Defense attorney, Suzanne Gustin, argued that Ada’s testimony has been coached and influenced by being interviewed over and over again by her older sister Alexis Somers. Gustin said that there are several inconsistencies with Ada’s testimony and that her memories of what happened may be false because of the coaching she received.

Prosecuting attorney, Chad Grunander, says it would have been better had Ada not been interviewed by Somers but that the investigation spanned several years and that there were additional questions after the initial forensic interview. Grunander said that Somers was extremely careful to not coach Ada when she questioned her and that Ada’s testimony is corroborated by other witnesses.

Judge Pullan said he is reserving the decision as to whether Ada can testify or not for trial but told prosecutors that they need call Somers and the two detectives in the case prior to calling Ada so he can get an understanding for how the questioning was done.

The final motion that was argued was a motion to exclude expert testimony about drug levels in Michele’s blood after death. Spencer says that the method used to determine the drug levels is not a method that is widely accepted by the scientific community and the drug levels in life cannot be determined using postmortem heart blood, as was done in the MacNeill case. He says that research shows that even a range of drug levels cannot be determined.

Prosecutors argue that their two experts, in addition to state medical examiners, believe the method is effective in determining pre-death drug levels. Pullan also put that motion on hold in order to review the studies cited by the defense, as well as the expert testimony from the preliminary hearing.

Jury selection for the trial will take place starting Oct. 15th with 120 potential jurors expected to be questioned, while opening arguments and testimony in the case is scheduled to begin Oct. 17. The five-week trial is scheduled to run through Nov. 15th.

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

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