Murder hearing focuses on drugs found in Michele MacNeill

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 9 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife appears in 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday Oct. 3, 2012, for the first day of preliminary hearings.

Al Hartmann,

PROVO — Dr. Todd Grey admits the pieces of information he had regarding the death of Michele MacNeill didn't change between 2008 and 2010. But his mindset did. 

"My thinking about the case changed," the veteran Utah state medical examiner conceded from the witness stand Tuesday.

During cross-examination on the fourth day of a preliminary hearing in the murder case of Martin MacNeill, defense attorney Randy Spencer tried to raise the argument that Grey was pressured into changing his opinion about Michele MacNeill's death so they could file a homicide charge.

But Grey said that was not the case.

When the Utah County Attorney's Office asked him to re-evaluate MacNeill's death in 2010, he said the toxicology report was something that he spent more time thinking about.

While there was "smoke surrounding this case and uncertainty on how those drug levels came to be" in her system, Grey insisted he wasn't pressured. "I certainly wasn't feeling like someone was saying, 'Get with the program here, we've got a homicide we've got to take care of.'"

Grey said there were a lot of suspicious factors surrounding the death, and the issue of the drugs found in MacNeill's body and how they got into her system needed to be studied. Because of the investigative information that had been collected and the "behaviors of various people" involved in the case, Grey felt there was a "lot of information that raised a question whether this was a simple natural death."

After taking another look at the case in 2010, Grey said he changed the manner of death to "undetermined." He also changed her cause of death from heart disease to the combined effects of heart disease and drug toxicity. Grey also testified he does not believe MacNeill died solely of a drug overdose.

Furthermore Grey conceded at one point, "This is a very difficult homicide case to prove," and said he was surprised that the state was proceeding, "considering the difficulties of the case."

Grey was one of several medical experts who testified Tuesday.

Martin MacNeill, 56, is charged with murder and obstructing justice in the April 2007 death of his wife. Prosecutors say he gave Michele MacNeill, 50, a dangerous combination of drugs and she was later found dead in a bathtub. Fourth District Judge Samuel McVey will likely determine later this week if there is enough evidence to order MacNeill to stand trial. The evidence is mostly circumstantial.

Spencer and fellow defense attorney Susanne Gustin noted that the original autopsy on Michele MacNeill in 2007 was conducted by an assistant medical examiner who has since died. That autopsy concluded that MacNeill died of heart disease and concluded the "circumstances (were) not suspicious." Grey essentially agreed with her findings in 2008 before reviewing it and changing his opinion in 2010.

Dr. David Cragun, an interventional cardiologist at the Central Utah Clinic in Provo, was also asked to review the initial autopsy. He concluded it was "very unlikely" that myocarditis (heart disease) led to her death.

While Grey said it's not common for a medical examiner to change their opinion on a death, it's not unusual. He referred to a high-profile murder in Salt Lake City some years ago where that occurred. In the MacNeill case, he said he looked at the "totality of drugs in her system."

"There was a potential that this mix of drugs could lead to potentially lethal effects or sedated effects," he said. "It's possible that this individual may have been coerced or forced to take medications that she might not otherwise."

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