PROVO — Utah County prosecutors used a bathtub as a courtroom prop on Friday to demonstrate how the body of a former beauty queen was found when it was discovered by her youngest daughter and neighbors who came to her aid.
Michele MacNeill, 50, was found dead by then 6-year-old Ada on April 11, 2007, about a week after she had a facelift. Five years later, her husband, Martin MacNeill, was charged with murder. Prosecutors say he gave her a lethal combination of painkillers and drowned her.
Neighbor Kristi Daniels pointed to the head of the oval shaped bathtub to describe how a partially-dressed Michele MacNeill was slumped in the tub, with her head near the faucet, her knees bent and feet inside. Daniels testified that she went to the MacNeill home after Ada knocked on her door and asked for help. The girl was still dressed in her school uniform and “was very calm,” neighbor Angie Aguilar testified.
The prop is not the tub from the MacNeill home in Pleasant Grove, but it is the same model, Judge Derek P. Pullan told the jury.
Daniels, one of three neighbors to testify on Friday, said she could hear Martin MacNeill screaming while she was still in the driveway. She ran to his aid and found Michele in the tub and Martin bent over the tub. She ran to get assistance from Aguilar and called her husband, Doug Daniels, to help. That call was made at 11:53 a.m., according to cellphone records presented as evidence by the defense.
Aguilar also testified that she and Kristi Daniels initially offered to help MacNeill get Michele out of the tub while waiting for Doug Daniels, but he put them off.
“He wanted a man,” Aguilar testified.
After the men got the woman out of the tub and on the bathroom floor, Kristi Daniels and MacNeill performed CPR. Michele’s face had a green pallor and was covered in mucus as she performed chest compressions while MacNeill breathed in his wife’s mouth, Kristi Daniels said.
When asked by prosecutors, neither the Daniels nor Aguilar said they saw Michele’s chest rise or fall while MacNeill was administering CPR. They also gave differing accounts about whether MacNeill wiped away the mucous on his wife’s face before giving her CPR, or if the mucous had transferred to his face. Doug Daniels believes MacNeill may have used a towel to clean her mouth.
“It was fast, everything was fast,” Kristi Daniels said, describing the events of that morning.
Prosecutors are focused on the CPR and mucous details because they believe MacNeill may have faked the life-saving measure.
But even Ray Ormond, a former Pleasant Grove police officer who responded to the house, said he didn’t notice whether Michele’s chest moved up and down, although he said her color improved, the incisions on her face began to bleed and she gurgled before coughing up at least three cups of clear liquid — an indication that CPR was working.
As first responders worked, MacNeill began to rant and rage, shouting: “Why did she take the medication?" "Why did she have the surgery?” and that she didn’t need the surgery, Ormond said.
Charging documents say MacNeill wanted to kill his wife in order to be with his mistress of more than a year, Gypsy Willis, with whom he exchanged nearly two dozen text message during his wife’s funeral service.
Neighbors said that within weeks of the death, Willis was seen in the neighborhood and MacNeill introduced her as the "nanny" hired to help care for his four young daughters.
MacNeill, a former osteopathic physician and lawyer, has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree felony charge and second-degree felony obstruction of justice in 4th District Court.
Defense attorneys say the evidence in the case is circumstantial and that MacNeill was either at work or shuttling his daughters back and forth from school that morning, not at home. Based on a doctor’s evaluation, Michele MacNeill is believed to have died sometime between 11:24 a.m. and 12:24 p.m.
A 2007 autopsy by the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Michele’s death as natural and as a result of heart disease, more specifically “chronic hypertension and myocarditis, which are capable of causing acute unexpected arrhythmia and sudden death.”
All three neighbors also said within days of Michele MacNeill’s death, her husband told them that doctors had concluded she had died from an arrhythmia.
“He just said it was some kind of heart thing,” Kristi Daniels said. “He said the doctor had called and made sure the family knew it was nobody’s fault.”
Also taking the stand Friday was Heidi Peterson, the dispatcher who talked to MacNeill when he called 911. She said dispatchers had trouble understanding the address that a frantic-sounding MacNeill gave for the home, but figured it out with the help of the dispatch computer system. MacNeill called 911 on a cellphone and twice either hung up or was disconnected after shouting that his wife was not breathing and he needed help.
Dressed in a suit and tie, MacNeill has appeared mostly expressionless during the trial so far. When prosecutors replayed the 911 call Friday, however, he appeared to tear up.
Testimony in the trial, which is scheduled for five weeks, is expected to resume on Tuesday.
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