PROVO — Martin MacNeill was the "stronger" personality, the "dominant" personality, the one who neighbors talked to and the one who commanded conversations with the doctors who worked with his wife, Michele, witnesses testified Wednesday.
He taught Sunday School classes. She wrote on the board for him in her beautiful calligraphy. He answered questions about her medical history for her as she deferred to him. Neighbors who often talked to Martin MacNeill, 56, said they don't remember doing much more than exchanging casual pleasantries with his wife.
But the man was largely quiet Wednesday as he sat in 4th District Court while Judge Samuel McVey heard evidence in the case against him. The Pleasant Grove doctor sat with his face tight and his lips terse as multiple witnesses took the stand to testify about the day Michele MacNeill, 50, died in her home.
Prosecutors say MacNeill murdered his wife by over-medicating her with a "dangerous combination" of drugs and drowned her in the bathtub of their home.
The couple's 11-year-old daughter took the stand Wednesday and recalled how her dad picked her up from kindergarten on April 11, 2007, and how she immediately went in the house to see her mother. She found her lying in the bathtub and immediately went to get her father.
He asked the then 6-year-old to call 911.
"I didn't know how to dial it," Ada MacNeill testified. "He told me to get the neighbors or someone to help."
As she ran next door, Martin MacNeill called 911. In the brief, truncated recordings, he is shouting his responses to dispatchers' questions. He yelled that his wife was unconscious and under water and that she'd had surgery about a week before.
Kristi Daniels answered the door when Ada came by asking for help. She said she ran over to the MacNeill house and then ran back for a friend and her phone in order to call her husband to help. She performed chest compressions as MacNeill performed mouth-to-mouth.
"He seemed calm to me — not frantic, but under control," she said.
Angela Aguilar, who ran to the home with Daniels, said MacNeill was talking to his wife as they tried to resuscitate her.
"He told her not to do this," she testified. "That she shouldn't have done this or something like that."
He later reported to Daniels that his wife had died of a heart problem and that it was "nobody's fault."
Dr. Von Welch, a physician in internal medicine, said he was asked by Martin MacNeill to perform an examination on his wife, Michele, in advance of a planned cosmetic surgery. He said there was an urgency on MacNeill's part to get the exam completed, which he did on March 29, 2007.
"My assessment was that she was in good health and had two problems," Welch testified. "One was high blood pressure, the other was depression."
He said he recommended high blood pressure medication and a test to check the woman's heart. He said she appeared emotional, was difficult to engage, and let her husband speak for her. He asked Martin MacNeill to leave at one point so he could talk to the wife alone.
"She said she had been sad in 2007," Welch said. "She expressed she was stressed and sad. She teared up briefly and had difficulty expressing why."
But Dr. Scott Thompson met with the couple for a consultation on a facial reconstruction surgery on March 22 and said they appeared to be "very happy together." He said Martin MacNeill was more "dominant," but both quickly made the decision to proceed with all of the procedures Thompson discussed with them.
Thompson said MacNeill seemed like a "protective" husband who described his wife as an anxious person with a low pain tolerance, prompting him to request stronger medications than Thompson normally prescribed.
"I'm much more likely, with their physician, to honor their request," he said. "Same thing in this case, because Martin was her physician, I was more willing to give extra medication than I would have."
Still, he said he gave both Martin and Michele MacNeill specific instructions and "some pretty strong cautions" about the use of the medications. "All physicians know these types of medications in combination can be a problem," he said.
Michele MacNeill's April 3, 2007, surgery went well and her recovery appeared to be going as expected, Thompson said. He testified that he checked on her after the surgery and in subsequent days and was "very happy" with her condition and progress. He said he was tapering Michele MacNeill off of her medicine and she wanted to be off of the medication "as quickly as she could."
"She was cheerful," Thompson said of one visit. "She was getting excited. I tried to encourage her that everything was going in the direction I wanted it to. I was very happy with how she was looking."
The day after his seven-day check up, Thompson said Martin MacNeill called "very upset" to report that Michele had been found unresponsive. Thompson said he was surprised.
"She was doing so well," he said. "I was completely devastated. It ruined my day. I was very upset."
Prosecutors believe MacNeill "used the surgery and recovery period to obtain the necessary drugs and set in motion the circumstances to intentionally or knowingly cause Michele's death and conceal his involvement." He is charged with murder, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony.
MacNeill had worked as a doctor and had a law degree, both of which investigators believe he used "to commit the murder and frustrate the investigation in an attempt to cover it up," court documents state. Prosecutors also allege that in the months before and after Michele MacNeill's April 11, 2007, death, MacNeill "had a strong motive to kill his wife."
Weeks earlier, MacNeill's wife and daughters became increasingly suspicious and aware of an affair he was having with Gypsy Willis, charges against him state.
A former roommate of Willis said Willis talked about killing Michele MacNeill and making it look like an accident, charges state. Shortly after the woman's death, family members say Willis moved into the MacNeill home under the guise that she was the children's nanny.
Two days after the surgery, Michele MacNeill told her daughter Alexis: "If anything happens to me, make sure it wasn't your dad," the charges state.
Both MacNeill and Willis were later convicted of fraud-related crimes in federal and state court. MacNeill, a former clinical director of the Utah State Developmental Center, was released from a Texas federal prison July 6 after serving a three-year sentence for fraud, forgery and identity theft.
The Deseret News first reported about the investigation in an in-depth report published in December of 2010.Comment on this story
Defense attorney Randall Spencer said MacNeill is innocent and has been adamantly professing his innocence since before charges were filed.
"We dispute the state's theory, for sure," defense attorney Susanne Gustin added.
The preliminary hearing, which continues Thursday, is expected to last five days. When it is finished, prosecutors will ask the judge to order MacNeill to stand trial on the charges against him.