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.
When she returned home after the death, Somers said she went right to her parents' bedroom to look for the medications. Finding them gone, she said she asked her father about them.
“He said, ‘I don’t know, I think the police might have taken it,’” she recalled. That contradicts earlier testimony that MacNeill instructed his son and his son’s girlfriend to count out and document the remaining medications and then flush them down the toilet.
Somers, now a Utah doctor who gave birth to twins 10 days ago, also told the jury she had heard her parents arguing about whether her father was having an affair with Willis. The argument came a few days after Michele MacNeill’s surgery and Somers was listening outside her parents' bedroom door.
“He told her that she was crazy,” Somers said of her father’s reaction. “He said that’s ridiculous, that he was not having an affair.”
But the month before, Somers said her mother had confided in her concerns that he had strayed from their marriage. Together the mother and daughter used a password to access her father’s phone records and identify a phone number he had frequently called late at night.
Somers said she called the number and heard a woman’s voice on a recorded message and then used a paid Internet service to trace the number to Willis.
Weeks after her mother’s death, when MacNeill told Somers he had found “the perfect nanny” for her young sisters, she said she told him she knew about the affair with Willis.
“I told him I knew. 'You are not to bring that woman into the house,'” she testified. “He got irate. He was screaming at me, saying, 'How dare you? How dare you accuse me.’ He didn’t know that I knew.”
During cross-examination, defense attorney Randall Spencer and Somers parried back and forth over her changes in testimony with statements she made in previous hearings and in an 18-page document she produced in 2007 and gave to prosecutors in hopes of persuading them to investigate MacNeill.
Somers said she didn’t remember saying during her mother’s funeral that her mother “was feeling a little sick” in their last conversation. And she would not agree with Spencer that in 2011 she had produced a duplicate copy of the detailed record of medications she gave her mother at the same time she was involved in a civil lawsuit over the estate.
Somers was one of three MacNeill daughters to testify on Wednesday. Sabrina MacNeill told the jury Willis never acted like a nanny but was seen slipping into their father’s bedroom at night.
A trembling and seemingly nervous Vanessa MacNeill told the jury of six men and five women that she volunteered to move home and help with the younger girls, but said her father rejected the offer in favor of hiring a nanny. After meeting Willis, she said she told her sister Alexis not to worry about the nanny.
“I was convinced that (Willis) wasn’t somebody to worry about, that my dad might be involved with,” Vanessa MacNeill said. “She was nothing like my mom.”
Also taking the stand for prosecutors on Wednesday was Anna Osborne Walthall, a former Park City businesswoman who said she had an affair with MacNeill for about six months in 2005. Walthall ran a laser hair removal clinic for which MacNeill served as medical director, although the business failed.6 comments on this story
Walthall testified that during a “pillow talk” session near the end of the relationship, MacNeill told her there were “natural things you could use in the body to cause someone to have a heart attack.”
Walthall didn’t give — nor was asked for — specifics. She also couldn’t recall if MacNeill said the method could kill someone, only that it couldn’t be detected.
Walthall also acknowledged writing an email to investigators in which she said she was “really excited about the prospect of Martin being off the streets for a really long time.”