Mother's words became MacNeill daughter's quest for justice
Jury convicts Martin MacNeill of drowning his wife in bathtub
For example, MacNeill forced his wife’s facelift, but raged before neighbors and emergency personnel after her death that she didn’t need it. He offered a doctor $10,000 to keep resuscitating an already dead Michele, instructed his son to flush her medications down the toilet, insisted on an autopsy and worried out loud about whether the police might investigate.
“It’s the most difficult case I’ve ever tried, in terms of emotion, in terms of certain aspects of the evidence,” said Grunander, who was assigned to the case three years ago. “Tough case. A lot of (district attorneys) wouldn’t file these charges."
In the end, Grunader said, his office studied other cases around the country where multiple medical examiners also failed to find physical evidence to conclude their victims had died as a result of homicide. But one similar case from Texas stood out because the suspected killers had obstructed justice by tampering with evidence and manipulating a crime scene.
“We had evidence of that here,” he said.
That seemed to be what convinced the MacNeill jury to convict, said Cluff, who met with the panel along with prosecutors and her family members about 1:30 a.m..
“A couple of them said that (MacNeill) destroying the evidence was really key,” she said. “It just speaks so loud.”
Grunander declined to discuss the substance of his conversation with jurors, whose names have not been released and so far have not responded to requests made through the court to speak with media.
“They were very convinced,” Grunander said, adding that there were parts of the case they didn't think were important that were "potentially problematic."
“Nonetheless they found enough (evidence),” he said.
Grunander said the MacNeill case is an example of what can be accomplished — even with circumstantial evidence — when victims and prosecutors persevere.
“You can win,” he said. “Don’t give up. Prosecutors, do the right thing. Push for justice. Victims, push for justice and just be courageous.”
Defense attorneys primarily relied on a MacNeill co-worker from the Utah State Developmental Center in American Fork, his young daughter’s teacher and an ergonomics expert to argue that MacNeill could not have been home at the time of Michele’s death and that he would have had trouble lifting her 180-pound body out of the oval-shaped sunken bathtub on his own.
In his own closing argument, Spencer said MacNeill was living an “alternative lifestyle,” maintaining the appearance of a perfect family life while keeping Willis on the side. But however odd and eccentric his behavior or personality may be, MacNeill was not a killer and the circumstances of the case didn’t add up to murder, he said.
Spencer made a quick exit from the courtroom after the verdict and declined to say if they would file an appeal.
“Of course I’m disappointed, but I don’t have any comment,” the normally upbeat and optimistic attorney said.
MacNeill faces a possible punishment of 15 years to life on the murder charge and another one to 15 years on the obstruction of justice charge when he is sentenced on Jan. 7, 2014. Fourth District Judge Derek P. Pullan will decide the sentence, although Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole ultimately will decide how much time he spends behind bars.
“With his age and the circumstances of this case ... I believe he will die in prison,” Grunander said.
Michele’s family will be at the sentencing and will be allowed to address MacNeill.
Cluff isn’t sure yet what she wants to say. After 30 years of a strained and hurtful relationship with her brother-in-law — who Cluff claims tried to destroy the family — there is a lot to address. No one in the the family ever quite understood why Michele married him or stayed in the relationship.
“Maybe it will be, ‘You can’t hurt us anymore,'” Cluff said. “He’s an absolute monster. That’s how I look at him.”
She believes Michele would be grateful and proud of the work her daughters, sisters and others who loved her carried out over the past six years so that the truth about MacNeill would come out. And with the trial over and the journey for justice nearing its end, Cluff said she feels like a fog that has hung over the family is finally beginning to lift.
“It’s amazing. All day today there’s a certain calmness and a sense that (Michele) is at peace as much as she can be,” said Cluff. “It’s a new day.”
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