Martin MacNeill's actions showed 'evidence of a guilty mind,' judge says

Pleasant Grove doctor ordered to stand trial for murder in wife's 2007 death

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Grunander asked the judge to leave the job of weighing the evidence in the case to a jury. But defense attorney Randall Spencer asked McVey to keep the case from going to trial because he felt prosecutors failed to prove Michele MacNeill's death was the result of criminal activity.

"The state has not proved an act by the defendant. They speculate about an act, and that is all we have here," Spencer told the judge. "They speculate that somewhere on April 11, 2007, Martin administered medication to Michele. There is zero evidence that on April 11, 2007, he administered medication to Michele."

He said the case was full of "Hollywood-esque stereotypes" and evidence of "bad acts" on MacNeill's part, but none of those acts superseded the fact that Michele MacNeill's cause of death was classified as undetermined — not a homicide.

"There's simply no evidence to support that," Spencer said. "This is just wild speculation. ... (Prosecutors have) taken an approach to this case that started with a conclusion, the conclusion being: 'We think Martin MacNeill killed Michele,' and they're working backward and taking a shotgun approach to find anything that supports that conclusion."

Dr. Joshua Perper, who recently retired as chief medical examiner in Broward County, Fla., testified that he believed drowning was the cause of MacNeill's death.

Perper disputed the findings of both Utah State Medical Examiner Dr. Todd Grey — a fellow prosecution witness — and one of Grey's former employees, Dr. Maureen Frikke.

Frikke, who died a couple of years ago, performed the initial autopsy on MacNeill after her death. She concluded the cause of death was myocarditis, or an inflammation of the heart. Later, Grey made an addendum to the original autopsy, listing the cause of death as heart disease combined with drug toxicity.

The judge said he felt Perper's was the most thorough and reliable evaluation, but noted that "medical examiners are not the arbiters of this case and are not the final say as to the cause of death." He said Frikke's illness left him "disinclined to give a whole lot of weight" to her conclusions.

McVey also questioned MacNeill's inability to pull his wife from the bathtub and mentioned testimony from witnesses who said they did not see Michele MacNeill's chest rise as her husband was administering CPR. The judge also referred to testimony from the doctor who performed Michele MacNeill's surgery who said the woman was tapering off of her medications just before she died.

McVey wondered why MacNeill asked someone to flush the medications down the toilet shortly after his wife's death when, as a doctor, he should know how important they would be in an investigation. He referred to MacNeill's expressed desire to marry Willis and the fact that the two later reported themselves to be married, listing their wedding date as the day of Michele MacNeill's funeral.

"Dr. MacNeill certainly had plenty of opportunity to give her these drugs," McVey said, referring to Michele MacNeill. "She would not be able to resist drowning or resist him drowning her by holding her head under water until she expires."

A tearful Somers called the judge's decision a "relief" after so many years of fighting for her mother's cause. She and many other family members have long believed her father killed her mother.

"We're so happy that the judge has ruled in favor of the prosecutors and it's going to trial," she said.

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin said the judge's ruling was "not surprising" given the standard at a preliminary hearing, which requires judges to view evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Gustin said she and Spencer have now seen much of the evidence and will prepare for trial.

"He has done some bad things, but does that mean he's a murderer? No. A lot of people have affairs," she said. "Just because he's an adulterer doesn't mean he's a murderer."

An arraignment hearing has been set for Oct. 22.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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