MacNeill daughter: Mom was upbeat, taking few meds just before she died

Man admitted over-medicating wife earlier in week, Alexis Somers says

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 30 2013 10:45 a.m. MDT

Alexis Somers is handed documents by Chad Grunander, Utah County prosecutor, while testifying at the trial of her father, Martin MacNeill, at 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. MacNeill is charged with murder for allegedly killing his wife, Michele MacNeill, in 2007.

Mark Johnston

PROVO — Michele MacNeill was in good spirits, recovering well and taking few painkillers the day before she died, her daughter and main caregiver told jurors on Wednesday.

“Most of her pain was really under control and she was feeling good,” Alexis Somers said on the stand during her father’s murder trial. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have left (the home).”

Michele MacNeill had surgery on April 3, 2007, and within a few days was taking only about two pills each day of the pain medication Percocet, Somers said. A Nevada medical student at the time, Somers was home from school on a break and caring for her mother following the surgery. The facelift procedure was a “gift” that Martin MacNeill gave to his wife, and he vigorously opposed her when she considered a delay, Somers said.

“He got really angry and said, ‘No you cannot do that. If you don’t have the surgery now, you’re not doing it,’” Somers testified, noting that her mother considered waiting to lose some weight and to get her blood pressure under control.

As the primary caregiver, Somers said she kept a detailed report of the number and type of medications her mother was taking each day, recording them in a small book. Somers returned to school the evening of April 10 after her mother got a positive post-operative report from her surgeon. She spoke to her mother over the phone before classes early the next day.

“She was upbeat and happy, I could hear it in her voice,” Somers said, her own voice breaking as tears leaked from her eyes.

About three hours later, a brusque Martin MacNeill told his daughter over the phone: “Your mother is not breathing. She’s in the bathtub. I’ve called an ambulance.”

Michele MacNeill was found unconscious and partially submerged in the tub of her Pleasant Grove home just before noon by her youngest daughter.

Prosecutors have charged MacNeill with murder in his wife’s death. They contend the former physician over-medicated his wife with drugs prescribed by her plastic surgeon, rendering her listless before drowning her in the tub. Investigators claim MacNeill’s motive for the crime was his mistress, Gypsy Willis, whom he later hired as a nanny for his four younger daughters. The pair had been involved for more than year.

The death was never ruled a homicide and prosecutors didn’t begin an investigation into her death until 2008, after Somers and other family members had brought their suspicions and information gathered about MacNeill to their attention. He was charged in 2012.

An autopsy found Michele MacNeill had at least four drugs in her system, including Lortab, Ambien, oxycodone and Valium — drugs Somers said Wednesday that she had not given to her mother.

“My mom didn’t like taking medication,” said Somers, who took her mother’s maiden name after her death and sued her father over her mother’s estate and for custody of her youngest siblings.

The only bump in her mother’s road to recovery came the day after she came home from the hospital, Somers testified. Michele MacNeill, who had been cared for during the night by her husband, was lethargic and unresponsive when Somers tried to wake her.

“I asked (my dad) what happened and he said, “I think I probably over-medicated her,” Somers said. “I told him he was not to give her any more. 'I’m taking over.'”

Somers testified that her mother — whose eyes were bandaged — was fearful after the episode and said her husband had given her multiple medications through the night, even after she threw up. She then asked her daughter to empty out the medication bottles so that she could feel each pill in her fingers in order to recognize them if he tried to give her any more.

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