Family members stare down Pleasant Grove doctor charged with murdering wife
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — What promises to be a prolonged courtroom drama about whether a Pleasant Grove doctor gave his wife a lethal combination of drugs more than five years ago started Monday with an attempt to stare him down.
Martin Joseph MacNeill's two daughters, sister-in-law and two nieces kept their eyes trained on him and held up pictures of Michele MacNeill from their seats on the second row.
"We're on your side, but let's not let it get out of hand, OK?" a 4th District Court bailiff admonished the women before the hearing.
MacNeill, 56, didn't appear to acknowledge them.
"He saw us. He did," MacNeill's daughter Alexis Somers said afterward.
"We want people to remember our mother," she said. "And we want people to know that she lived and that she deserves justice."
MacNeill, 56, waived a reading of the murder and obstruction of justice charges against him. Other than quietly conferring with his attorney, MacNeill said nothing in court. Judge Samuel D. McVey scheduled the next hearing for Sept. 4.
Somers said she expects a long court battle.
"This is going to be very drawn out. He's not going to plea. This is going to be a fight 'til the end," she said.
MacNeill is accused of over-medicating his wife and administering a "dangerous combination" of drugs and drowning her in the bathtub of their home, according to documents filed in court last week.
Details regarding at least two extramarital affairs emerged in the days and months following the funeral and MacNeill is believed to have "scripted" portions of his life thereafter, according to Somers, his third-oldest daughter, who also became a doctor.
Prosecutor Chad Grunander declined to elaborate about the case beyond the charging documents.
"I'm sure we'll have some engaging and very entertaining arguments on the evidence and what it all means in the future," he said after the hearing.
MacNeill's attorney, Randall Spencer, said he expects his client to be cleared of the charges as the case unfolds.
"He has adamantly professed his innocence," Spencer said after the hearing.
Spencer said he believes prosecutors made a leap to conclude that MacNeill must have killed his wife because he was having an affair. MacNeill also had an affair with another woman for several months about two years before his wife's death, according to prosecutors.
"His daughters and in-laws have turned against him. It saddens him because he loves his family. Maybe someday they will have some pause and think, 'What if we were wrong and dad didn't kill Mom and the Utah state medical examiner was right that she died of natural causes related to hypertension and heart disease?'" he said.
Somers, Rachel MacNeill and their aunt Linda Cluff have pushed investigators for years to look deeper into Michele MacNeill's death, even though the medical examiner initially ruled it as accidental. Somers said the medical examiner re-considering the cause of death was key to moving the case forward.
Grunander credited the family for pushing police to investigate, but said the case didn't turn on any one thing.
"Our interest in this case is justice and we will pursue justice in this matter," he said. "We look forward to giving Michele her day in court."
Grunander described the investigation as "quite complex," saying it took detectives to California, Texas, Florida and New Jersey. A lot of the delays, he said, can be attributed to MacNeills' conduct on the day his wife died and in the days after.
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