Jury: Martin MacNeill's 'heartless' nature, circumstantial evidence added up to murder

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2013 10:15 p.m. MST

Jurors Jenna, Steve, Kitty and Randy from the Martin MacNeill murder trial talk Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, about how they came to a guilty verdict.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — For one juror, it came down to three questions: Did Martin MacNeill have the motive, opportunity and capability to kill his wife Michele?

Getting to the answers — yes, yes and yes — took the five men and three women who decided MacNeill’s fate some 11 hours of deliberation, the careful consideration of a mountain of circumstantial evidence and four weeks of witness testimony, some of which the panel deemed wasn’t too credible, according to a handful of jurors who spoke Wednesday to the Deseret News.

“It was a combination of all the evidence that really got me there,” juror Stuart Lewis said of the weekend guilty verdict. “There were too many things … that shouldn’t have been that way unless he had done it.”

What added up to murder in the mind of the jury: MacNeill’s "erratic," sometimes "heartless" behavior after Michele’s April 11, 2007, death and the way his explanations of what happened to his wife changed depending on his audience. In addition, a medical examiner’s decision to alter the autopsy report three years later and prescription drugs were key to the case.

“This is a person who was thinking and calculating two or three moves down the road like a chess (player) would do,” said Randy, a juror who asked to be identified by his first name.

Jurors believed that MacNeill twice gave his wife overdose levels of medication — once after she came home from a hospital following plastic surgery on April 5 and again a few days later when she died.

“These were the two times that he was alone with her, and we know he gave her the medication the first time,” said Lewis, 28. “We believe the second time was intentional as well, absolutely.”

Randy noted it was suspicious that MacNeill said his wife’s death might have been caused by a drug overdose, well before toxicology reports revealed the number and levels of drugs in her blood.

“He knew that her were pills involved because he had something to do with it,” the juror said.

They were less swayed by the motive posited by prosecutors: MacNeill’s 18-month affair with Gypsy Willis, a 30-year-old nursing student. MacNeill hired Willis as a nanny to his young children within weeks of his wife’s death and proposed marriage just three months later.

“Having an affair is a far cry from murder,” Lewis said. “I think I felt the weight of our verdict. I don’t think it’s justified to put him in prison for life if he’s committed adultery.”

The jury handed down its verdict just after 1 a.m. Saturday in Provo’s 4th District Court. MacNeill, 57, was convicted of murder and obstruction of justice for drugging his 50-year-old wife and drowning her in the bathtub of their Pleasant Grove home.

Prosecutors said MacNeill used the plastic surgery as the cover for getting the necessary drugs and used his training as a physician to make the death seem accidental.

A onetime physician and the former director of the Utah State Developmental Center, MacNeill faces prison terms of 15 years to life on the murder conviction and one to 15 years for obstruction when sentenced in January.

Inside the jury room last Friday, the process began with an outpouring of thoughts and emotions, which by design had been bottled up because jurors are barred from discussion until the case is in their hands. Then it became both methodical and deliberate, Lewis said.

Some facts or witness testimonies were quickly set aside as either inconsequential or problematic.

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