Evidence to be presented next month against doctor charged with killing wife

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 3:19 p.m. MDT

Family members Kimberly Popish, Jill Harper-Smith, Linda Cluff, Alexis Somers, and Rachel MacNeill, left to right, talk to the media after attending a hearing for Martin Joseph MacNeill on Aug. 27, 2012. MacNeill is accused of murdering his wife, Michele MacNeill, in 2007.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Prosecutors expect to call as many as two dozen witnesses at a hearing next month to determine whether a Pleasant Grove doctor should stand trial in the death of  his wife.

"There will be a lot of evidence in this case," assistant Utah County attorney Chad Grunander said Tuesday. "It is a complex case."

Fourth District Judge Samuel D. McVey scheduled a five-day preliminary hearing to start Oct. 5 and then resume Oct. 9-12.

Martin MacNeill, 56, is accused of giving his wife, Michele, a dangerous combination of drugs and drowning her in the bathtub of their upscale home in April 2007. He is charged with murder and obstruction of justice.

He appeared in court Tuesday handcuffed and shackled and wearing a blue jail jumpsuit. Two of his daughters and other relatives sat on the front row but did not hold up photos of Michele MacNeill as they did during a previous court hearing.

MacNeill had worked as a doctor and had a law degree, both of which police believe he used "to commit the murder and frustrate the investigation in an attempt to cover it up," according to court documents. It was also evident to prosecutors that in the months before and after Michele MacNeill's death that he "had a strong motive to kill his wife."

Defense attorney Randall Spencer asked McVey to schedule the hearing as soon as possible, a somewhat unusual request in a murder case.

"Mr. MacNeill's daughters, the prosecutors, the investigators, they all want to make a Hollywood script of scenes out of the evidence in this case. We just don't think it adds up that way," Spencer said.

Michele MacNeill suffered a tragic death, he said, and that's what a jury will ultimately conclude and find Martin MacNeill not guilty.

Grunander said prosecutors intend to call eight doctors among the 20 to 24 expected witnesses, including a recently retired medical examiner who lives in Florida. Some of those doctors will be considered "expert" witnesses. Grunander declined to say whether any of them were colleagues of MacNeill, who worked at the BYU Health Center and as the clinical director at the American Fork Developmental Center.

MacNeill's daugther Alexis Somers said the family is ready for the next step in the case.

"We just hope we can get the conviction we've been fighting for," said Somers, who expects to be called as a witness. "We have faith in the prosecution. It's in their hands."

Somers and other family members pushed police to dig deeper into Michele MacNeill's death after investigators initially deemed it an accident.

Michele MacNeill underwent plastic surgery just eight days before she died. Somers said her mother had talked to her about wanting to lose weight before getting the face-lift, but said her father insisted that she have the operation immediately.

The surgeon prescribed Lortab syrup, Ambien, oxycodone and Valium. He told investigators he had never prescribed that combination of drugs and would not have had it not been for the recommendation of Martin MacNeill and then only on the condition that MacNeill monitor them as a physician.

Investigators contend Michele MacNeill also grew suspicious that her husband was having an affair and began to confront him about it. Michele MacNeill confided in her daughter told her "if anything happens to me, make sure it was not your dad," according to court records.

Just days later, Michele MacNeill was found dead in her bathtub. Her husband told investigators she must have slipped and fell.

MacNeill finished serving a three-year federal prison sentence for fraud, forgery and identity theft in early July. Authorities arrested him Aug. 24 while he was checking in with a parole officer. He is being held in the Utah County Jail on a $1 million cash-only bail.

Spencer declined to comment on whether he would seek a reduction in bail or if MacNeill could raise the money for his release.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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