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

“We tried to tell people about him, but it was like we were the crazy people,” she said. “He did such a a good job of fooling people and acting.”

Cluff kept pushing until the Utah County Attorney’s Office agreed to open a case. Then she put Somers on the phone with investigators.

“She really had all the information. She was the key one at her mother's side,” Cluff said, adding that Michele and her daughter were extremely close. “They were like the Bobbsey twins.”

Many involved in the MacNeill case say Alexis was the glue that kept the pieces together and was the prosecution's star witness. She testified during three different days of the trial, including the first time just two days after giving birth to twins.

On the stand, she was poised, calm and focused, repeating her strong beliefs that the father whom she once idolized crafted and executed a plot to murder her mother less than 18 hours after she left home for school in Las Vegas.

Sitting in the courtroom before the verdict was read early Saturday, Cluff said she felt her sister’s presence — but was nervous.

“You know there’s always a chance that it could go either way,” she said. “For us, you know, it’s been 30 years and there were pieces of the puzzle that were missing from the case.”

About two hours before rendering its verdict, the jury asked the court for a copy of the three recorded calls MacNeill made to 911 seeking help for his wife. Defense attorneys claimed the calls were evidence that a frantic MacNeill was trying to save her. Prosecutors contended he lied to 911 operators about performing CPR and the home’s address.

In a note, jurors told the judge the recording was the last piece of evidence they needed before reaching a decision, although they didn’t say why.

The seemingly simple request turned problematic when prosecutors said they lacked a copy that could be easily played. That caused a scramble that lasted until midnight as they scurried to convert computer files to a CD.

The drama drew Michele’s family, media and dozens of interested others to the courtroom to wait out the proceedings. The packed room buzzed with conversation and palpable tension and hushed when prosecutors came in at 1 a.m. with news that a verdict had been reached.

It became even more quiet when the clerk stood to announce the decision.

“It was an amazing moment for the family, this has been so long in coming for them,” deputy Utah County attorney Chad Grunander said to the throng of reporters from Utah and national media outlets that had packed the 4th District courtroom for four weeks.

“We’re just absolutely thrilled for Alexis, for Rachel, for Linda Cluff,” the prosecutor said. “For all the daughters, for all the sisters. I love it when the system works and the system worked over these last four weeks.”

Only one of three medical examiners who considered the case ruled that the death was the result of drowning, however. 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.

But prosecutor Jared Perkins told the jury during closing arguments that medical examiners interpret scientific evidence of the body, not culpability or motive.

“The fact that they don’t find homicide is a limitation of their role and a limitation of their science,” he said, explaining that it is a jury's job to decide who is responsible for someone's death.

Testimony in the mostly circumstantial case included some 40 witnesses — 36 called by the Utah County Attorney’s Office — knitting together stories about MacNeill’s odd behaviors and inconsistent statements to illustrate proof of his guilt.

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