PROVO — A judge determined Tuesday that Martin MacNeill, who was convicted of murder in the death of his wife, must undergo a mental competency evaluation.
"It appears there is bona fide doubt as to Mr. MacNeill's competency to stand trial at this time," 4th District Court Judge Samuel McVey said.
The judge's decision halted a two-day trial slated to begin next week in an unrelated sex abuse case. McVey said he had "no choice" but to order the examination in light of a Utah Court of Appeals ruling handed down Friday that stated a competency hearing must be held any time attorneys raise a "bona fide doubt" about competency.
McVey asked for an examination into the man's mental state and set a competency review hearing for March 3.
MacNeill, 57, was found guilty in November of murdering his wife, Michele MacNeill, in 2007. The former Pleasant Grove doctor was scheduled to face trial Feb. 4 for an unrelated forcible sex abuse charge stemming from allegations that he groped one of his daughters in 2007.
Martin MacNeill's attorney, Randall Spencer, filed a petition for a competency hearing Thursday and argued that conditions at the Utah County Jail — where MacNeill is being housed — are "slowly killing" his client. He said MacNeill has been on suicide watch since Dec. 5, when MacNeill attempted suicide by cutting his femoral artery with a disposable razor.
Spencer said MacNeill continues to be held in an isolation cell where he must wear a suicide robe, and lights are shined on him 24 hours a day, preventing him from getting proper sleep. He said his client is also unable to receive nourishing vegetarian meals and is cuffed and chained every time he showers.
"It is my observation and belief that Mr. MacNeill’s condition is bad and worsening," Spencer wrote. "His face is drawn; his eyes are perpetually red. He is gaunt. He is isolated from personal interaction. He has been informed that as long as he is in the Utah County Jail, he will be on suicide watch with the same treatment as described above."
Spencer noted that his client has suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disease since his late teens or early 20s.
MacNeill's daughter, Alexis Somers, said after the hearing that she is confident her father will be found competent to stand trial. She said she was not surprised, though, by the questions about his mental health.
"He uses this mental illness card whenever it suits him, and we'll see what happens," she said. "I think it's ridiculous, but that's what the law states. I don't want this to come up in an appeal later on."
Somers said she doesn't know if the competency issue would impact sentencing in the murder case.
"I don't feel sorry for the circumstances he's in because he put himself there," she said.
Originally scheduled for Jan. 9, the sentencing in the murder case was continued in light of a motion from defense attorneys asking that MacNeill's conviction be thrown out. They allege that one of the state's witnesses — a federal prison inmate who testified against MacNeill during the trial — lied on the stand.
Arguments on the matter are slated for Feb. 20. No new sentencing date has been set.