Daughter says Martin MacNeill insisted on autopsy of mother's body, feared police investigation

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24 2013 10:50 a.m. MDT

Former Pleasant Grove physician Martin MacNeill, right, speaks with his attorney Susanne Gustin in 4th District Court in Provo on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. MacNeill is charged with murder in the 2007 death of his wife, Michele MacNeill.

Mark Johnston

PROVO — An emotionally distraught Rachel MacNeill testified against her father Thursday, saying he insisted an autopsy be conducted on her mother’s body in case police launched an inquiry and accused him of murder.

“He specifically said to me he was concerned there would be a police investigation, that he didn’t want anyone to think that he had killed my mother,” a tearful MacNeill said. “It was shocking to me. Why would anybody think that?”

Michele MacNeill was found unconscious in the bathtub of her Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007. Utah County prosecutors say Martin MacNeill over-medicated his wife with painkillers she was given after plastic surgery and then drowned her in the tub. They believe MacNeill killed his wife to begin a new life with his mistress, Gypsy Willis.

A former osteopathic physician and lawyer, Martin MacNeill, 57, has pleaded not guilty to murder, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. The trial is in its second week and is expected to last until mid-November.

An initial autopsy by the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office found that Michele MacNeill died of natural causes related to heart disease. An updated report by the same office in 2010 concurred but called the manner of her death suspicious and undetermined. A third examiner, who is a witness for prosecutors, found that the former California beauty queen drowned.

None of the examiners concluded the death was a homicide. Utah County authorities began investigating the death in 2008, but criminal charges in the case were not filed until 2012.

Testifying was clearly difficult for Rachel MacNeill, who said that as a child her father was her “best friend.” She broke down repeatedly, her lip and chin visibly quivering, sometimes closing her eyes and shaking her head. At times, she seemed angry or confused by the questions of both prosecutors and defense attorneys, and she had trouble remembering things she said in the past.

She also became so upset when asked to use the tub inside the court to re-enact her father’s demonstration of finding her mother’s body that Judge Derek Pullan called for a recess.

“He said she was under the water. … He said he couldn’t lift her out,” Rachel MacNeill said, her face twisting in pain. “He said that she must have fallen or hit her head. … I didn’t want to listen to it. It was so horrible.”

The eldest of the MacNeills' seven daughters, Rachel MacNeill also had a clear memory of meeting Willis outside the Mount Timpanogos LDS temple in American Fork.

Martin MacNeill met his daughter at the temple six days after Michele’s death in order to “pray” about hiring a nanny for the younger kids. Willis approached them, introducing herself under the pseudonym “Jillian” as they sat on a bench outside, and Martin MacNeill pretended as if he was meeting Willis for the first time.

Within two weeks, Willis had been hired as the nanny and moved into the house, although Rachel MacNeill said Willis “didn’t do anything related to the children” but sat around the house “all goo-eyed at my dad.”

“I expected her to be focused on the children,” Rachel MacNeill said with a sneer. “It was very different than it was with my mother.”

Rachel MacNeill also testified that her father had said her sister Alexis Somers “was no longer in the family” because both she and Michele had accused him of having an affair with Willis.

“He said that was ridiculous,” Rachel MacNeill said.

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