Martin MacNeill committed an 'almost perfect murder,' prosecutor tells jury

Jury deliberated very late into the night

Published: Friday, Nov. 8 2013 10:30 p.m. MST

Martin MacNeill listens as Gypsy Willis testifies during his murder trial in 4th District Court in Provo Thursday Nov. 7, 2013.

Al Hartmann

PROVO — Motivated by his love for another woman, Martin MacNeill used his wife’s plastic surgery as the cover for committing an “almost perfect murder,” prosecutors said Friday.

“And I say almost perfect murder because, along the way, he left a number of clues that point to him as the murderer,” deputy Utah County attorney Chad Grunander told jurors considering MacNeill’s fate.

The clues — from insisting Michele MacNeill have surgery, to researching and requesting specific drugs for her recovery, an incidence of over-medication, inconsistent statements, and his growing commitment to mistress Gypsy Willis — all point, he said, to how and why Martin MacNeill killed his wife.

“The defendant's fingerprints, if you will, are all over Michele’s death,” Grunander said during closing arguments.

Defense attorney Randall Spencer countered, however, that those clues aren’t facts that prove guilt, but “cherry-picked” details from events, circumstances or statements that fit the prosecution’s theories about what happened to Michele MacNeill.

“There’s not evidence in this case that rises to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Spencer told the jury of five men and three women.

The jury deliberated more than 9 ½ hours until 11:30 p.m. Friday when the judge asked them if they wanted to go home for the night. Jurors sent a note back saying they wanted to continue to deliberate. It was unclear whether they would work through the night or were close to a verdict.

Michele MacNeill, 50, was found unconscious in the bathtub of her Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007, about a week after having plastic surgery. Five years later, after family pushed for an investigation, prosecutors charged MacNeill with murder and obstruction of justice, claiming he overdosed his wife on painkillers and sleeping pills and then held her under the water until she drowned.

But only one of three medical examiners who considered the case ruled that the death was the result of drowning. One said she died of natural causes related to heart disease, and a third said a combination of heart disease and drug toxicity were the cause. None, however, could declare definitively that the manner of death was homicide.

“That’s reasonable doubt,” said Spencer — a phrase he repeated to jurors several times when ticking off inconsistencies in the case.

Testimony in the trial has lasted for four weeks. To render a guilty verdict, the jury must be unanimous in its decision. If convicted, Martin MacNeill, 57, could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Typically stoic in his expression and reaction, Martin MacNeill on Friday appeared pensive. Eyes down, he frequently sat with fingers laced together and his folded hands resting on his chest, propping up his chin. At times, he took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead.

Alexis Somers and Rachel MacNeill, who both testified against their father and pushed for his prosecution, were also in court, along with their mother’s sisters. Rachel MacNeill began to cry almost as soon as Judge Derek P. Pullan began to instruct the jury about how the law dictates they must consider the evidence presented in the case.

Prosecutors contend the motive for Martin MacNeill’s alleged crime was his 18-month relationship with nursing student Willis, whom he hired as nanny to his young children within weeks of his wife’s death.

Grunander said a shift in that relationship about a month before the death marks a critical moment in Martin MacNeill’s life and points to his motive for murder. That’s when Willis rejected a potential suitor in an email, telling him that a friendship had turned into more and she was now committed to someone.

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