PROVO — Attorneys for Martin MacNeill, a former Pleasant Grove doctor convicted in November of murdering his wife, want his conviction thrown out.
Attorney Randall Spencer filed a motion on Dec. 27 asking a judge to dismiss MacNeill's murder conviction because he believes one of the state's witnesses — a federal prison inmate who testified against MacNeill during the trial — lied on the stand. Michael Buchanan was one of two federal inmates who lied, according to Spencer.
"The testimony of Jason Poirier and Michael Buchanan is the only evidence presented during the trial that Michele MacNeill died as a result of the hands of another. Jason Poirier’s testimony was so inherently improbable that reasonable minds must have entertained doubt regarding the truthfulness of his testimony. In light of the newly discovered evidence, it is clear that Michael Buchanan’s testimony, like Jason Poirier’s, is so inherently improbable, that reasonable minds must entertain doubt regarding its truthfulness," Spencer wrote in court documents.
Without Buchanan's testimony, the evidence presented by the state during MacNeill's trial is "inherently inconclusive," Spencer argued. Because of that, he wants the charges against his client either dropped or a new trial granted.
But some jurors who spoke to the Deseret News following their verdict said they gave little credence to the testimony from the inmates who had been in federal prison with MacNeill when he was serving time for identity theft.
“There was too much ulterior motive,” one juror said, referring to the inmates' hopes for reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony. “Do I think they were telling some of the truth? Yes. But was there a real possibility that they could be embellishing? There was.”
The jury on Nov. 9 convicted MacNeill, 57, of murder and obstruction of justice in the death of his wife, 50-year-old Michele MacNeill, in 2007. They agreed with the prosecution's theory that MacNeill overdosed his wife on painkillers and sleeping pills and then held her under the water until she drowned.
MacNeill was scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9, but that sentencing has been continued in light of the new court filings.
In the motion filed in 4th District Court, MacNeill's attorneys say they have reviewed numerous emails and phone conversations Buchanan made from prison. They believe as early as September, Buchanan thought he would be released from prison early in exchange for testifying against MacNeill, even though he testified on the witness stand that he was not receiving any special treatment in exchange for his testimony.
Buchanan was originally scheduled to be released from prison in January of 2016. He received credit for time served after testifying in the MacNeill case, however, and was released from prison last month.
MacNeill's attorneys also believe Buchanan lied about staying away from media coverage of the trial before he testified. Spencer argued in his motion that the new evidence suggests Buchanan watched coverage of the trial on TV and talked about it with family members before he testified.
"The newly discovered evidence ... shows that Buchanan testified falsely about a number of material facts; it also demonstrates (Utah County Attorney's Office) investigator (Jeff) Robinson was actively involved in planning a deal for Buchanan," Spencer wrote.
"Similar to the Poirier deal, (prosecutors) apparently established a framework for Buchanan’s deal before trial, but did not consummate it, and therefore did not disclose it before trial. The new evidence confirms that prior to MacNeill’s trial, Buchanan understood that Robinson was actively speaking with Buchanan’s attorney about the manner in which Buchanan would receive consideration for his testimony," the motion states.
The attorneys say Buchanan corresponded several times with his family that all he needed was for MacNeill to stay alive until he testified.
"On Oct. 13, 2013, Buchanan called his mother again and says that 'no one is by the phone, so he can talk now.' Buchanan says, 'I aint worried about any repercussions.' 'He’s just an old shriveled up doctor.' 'He aint mafia,'" MacNeill's attorneys wrote. "Buchanan says that he 'needs (Martin) alive and well,' and that 'he can hang himself' after he testifies against him."
MacNeill attempted suicide Dec. 5 in his Utah County Jail cell by cutting himself with a disposable razor, according to deputies. He was treated at a hospital and returned to jail.
Newly filed court documents reveal that MacNeill's attorneys received a copy of their client's suicide note a couple of weeks after the incident.
"Included in the letter was a suicide note written by MacNeill on or about Dec. 5, 2013, professing his innocence in his wife’s death," the motion states.
Prosecutors have also filed motions in court, requesting their own copies of Buchanan's email and phone correspondence. They have also asked a judge for additional time to file their response to the defense's request for a new trial.