Martin MacNeill: Was his wife Michele's death accidental or was it murder?

Published: Saturday, Dec. 4 2010 3:00 p.m. MST

Also complicating the case is the amount of time it took paramedics and police to arrive at the house. Paramedics were dispatched to the wrong address because they could not clearly hear Martin on the phone and 30 minutes elapsed before they arrived on scene.

In two police reports written on April 11 and 12, 2007, Pleasant Grove investigators appear to conclude the death was accidental.

"The victim had apparently slipped and fell after filling the tub with water," one report states. "He (Martin) said he found her hunched over the tub as if she had passed out while preparing the tub."

Another officer reported, "It appeared the female was drawing a bath when she possibly passed out or fell."

Autopsy questioned

Michele's initial autopsy indicated she died a sudden, natural death partly due to myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart), which can be caused by a hypersensitivity to drugs, according to Grey. He said certain drugs can cause the body to attack itself and can kill someone over time or quickly. It is unlikely, however, that someone could know which drugs another person could be hypersensitive to as this attack on the body occurs when a person is exposed to the drug for the first time, he said. Grey said there were four different drugs in her system at the time of her death.

Michele had acute and sub-acute inflammation of the heart, but Grey said doctors can't be sure what caused it.

However, in October 2010— after consultations with Utah County investigators and other forensic and toxicologist teams that were hired to look at Michele's death report and toxicology levels — Grey changed Michele's cause of death to include drug toxicity, and under manner of death, it says that Michele could not have administered medication to herself.

Witney believes the medical examiner who performed Michele's autopsy was not given complete information and may have come to a different conclusion if she had been given more facts surrounding the case. The fact that Michele threw up water was only discovered through investigation a year later. To complicate matters, however, that medical examiner — Dr. Maureen Frikke — has since died.

Grey maintains that Frikke's investigation was thorough. Several months ago, he said the MacNeill case would require "a specific set of investigation findings to overcome the lack of any physical findings on the body" in order to indicate a possible homicide. While he could not say what specifically caused him to amend the autopsy results, he offered a hypothetical.

"If in a particular case investigators' information is strongly suggestive of a non-natural event (such as a homicide) and the physical findings on the body show, pathologically, something that could explain death, but there are added features that make you say, 'Wow, I'm not sure, but it's possible these non-natural factors may have played a role, but I'm not certain.' That would be a (comparable) situation."

Grey said his office receives three to four requests a year to reconsider the cause of death because someone believes it was a homicide. Of those requests, he said less than 5 percent are actually reopened.

"Most homicides are pretty clear," he said.

'Contrived' setup?

For months before Michele's death, Martin had been telling neighbors and members of his LDS ward that he was dying of a rare form of foot cancer, had multiple sclerosis and even used a cane during Michele's funeral. Witney said he believes the ailment "appears to have been contrived" and wrote that he suspects he may have been setting up a scene in which he would have needed help pulling his wife out of the tub.

Family members said he had no such ailments. Rachel saw her father bring sheet rock down the basement stairs just days before her mother's death and he had allegedly helped haul hay just weeks earlier in Wyoming.

Randy Spencer, Martin's attorney, said his client does have a neurological condition that causes parts of his body to go numb if he stays in a certain position too long, and said that he did have a large swollen toe from an earlier injury.

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