Mother's words became MacNeill daughter's quest for justice

Jury convicts Martin MacNeill of drowning his wife in bathtub

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 1:20 a.m. MST

Linda Cluff, sister of Michele MacNeill, hugs friends after court was adjourned following the guilty verdicts against Martin MacNeill. MacNeill was found guilty of murder and obstruction of justice early Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

Scott Sommerdorf

PROVO — Just five days before her death in 2007, a hazy Michele MacNeill turned to her daughter Alexis and uttered some foreboding and ultimately prophetic words:

“If anything happens to me, make sure it was not your dad.”

The admonition came after Michele’s husband, Martin MacNeill, spent the night pumping his wife with so many painkillers and other drugs that the former California beauty queen was left in a stupor. That troubled Alexis, then a first-year medical student caring for her mother, who had been weaning her off the post-surgery drugs as she recovered from plastic surgery.

Michele, 50, a mother of eight, was found dead in the bathtub of her Pleasant Grove home by her youngest daughter on April 11, 2007.

The echo of Michele's words then became her daughter’s directive.

With the help of her sister Rachel and Michele’s sister Linda Cluff, Alexis Somers launched a six-and-a-half-year campaign to prove that her father was responsible for her mother’s death.

“I think she absolutely felt like, 'I’ve got to do this. I’m not going to let it rest,'” Cluff told the Deseret News Saturday. “I would think of (Michele’s words) as marching orders. Alexis took that literally and she was making sure there was justice for Michele.”

The effort paid off in the early hours of Saturday when a jury of five men and three women found MacNeill, 57, guilty of murder and obstruction of justice for drugging Michele and getting her into a bathtub so he could hold her underwater until she drowned. He also tossed out the leftover drugs and lied to police, emergency workers and others about his wife’s death.

Jurors deliberated 11 hours before finally announcing their verdict at 1:10 a.m. Saturday: "Guilty." Weary from the four-week trial, Somers, Rachel, Cluff and other family members let go an audible gasp and yelped with joy as the word was read.

A former Pleasant Grove physician, MacNeill showed no emotion as the verdict was read by a clerk. Before being led away by jailers, however, he hugged defense attorney Randall Spencer and then placed his left hand on the lawyer’s shoulder.

“It’s OK, really,” MacNeill said with a slight smile that seemed to express some resignation.

Afterward, Somers said the courtroom was filled with people who loved her mother.

“We are just so happy he can’t hurt anyone else,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “I can’t believe this has finally happened. We’re so grateful ... there was justice for my mom.”

Investigators said the motive for the murder was Gypsy Willis, a nursing student with whom MacNeill had begun an affair in 2005 that escalated into a serious relationship in the month before Michele’s death.

Prosecutors were thrilled with the jury’s handling of a largely circumstantial case that was fraught with hurdles, not the least of which was an investigation that wasn’t started until years after the woman’s death, despite her pleading family.

“They didn’t take us seriously in the beginning,” an exhausted Cluff said Saturday. “When I went (to police), they were very disinterested. Everyone took Martin’s word because of who he was.”

That didn’t deter the family. For years they wrote letters to authorities, including Utah’s governor, and dug through school and court transcripts, military and employment records and talked to others who knew MacNeill, to help convince prosecutors to give Michele’s death their attention.

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