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Family members stare down Pleasant Grove doctor charged with murdering wife

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 7:25 a.m. MDT

Family members of Martin Joseph MacNeill hold up photos of Michele MacNeill as he makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, before 4th District Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. Martin MacNeill is charged with murdering his wife in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Family members of Martin Joseph MacNeill hold up photos of Michele MacNeill as he makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, before 4th District Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. Martin MacNeill is charged with murdering his wife in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO — What promises to be a prolonged courtroom drama about whether a Pleasant Grove doctor gave his wife a lethal combination of drugs more than five years ago started Monday with an attempt to stare him down.

Martin Joseph MacNeill's two daughters, sister-in-law and two nieces kept their eyes trained on him and held up pictures of Michele MacNeill from their seats on the second row.

"We're on your side, but let's not let it get out of hand, OK?" a 4th District Court bailiff admonished the women before the hearing.

MacNeill, 56, didn't appear to acknowledge them.

"He saw us. He did," MacNeill's daughter Alexis Somers said afterward.

"We want people to remember our mother," she said. "And we want people to know that she lived and that she deserves justice."

Martin Joseph MacNeill, left, talks with his attorney Randall Spencer prior to making his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo on charges accusing him of murdering his wife Michele MacNeill in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Martin Joseph MacNeill, left, talks with his attorney Randall Spencer prior to making his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo on charges accusing him of murdering his wife Michele MacNeill in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

MacNeill, 56, waived a reading of the murder and obstruction of justice charges against him. Other than quietly conferring with his attorney, MacNeill said nothing in court. Judge Samuel D. McVey scheduled the next hearing for Sept. 4.

Somers said she expects a long court battle.

"This is going to be very drawn out. He's not going to plea. This is going to be a fight 'til the end," she said.

MacNeill is accused of over-medicating his wife and administering a "dangerous combination" of drugs and drowning her in the bathtub of their home, according to documents filed in court last week.

Details regarding at least two extramarital affairs emerged in the days and months following the funeral and MacNeill is believed to have "scripted" portions of his life thereafter, according to Somers, his third-oldest daughter, who also became a doctor.

Fourth District Judge Samuel D. McVey speaks to Martin Joseph MacNeill and his attorney Randall Spencer during his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Fourth District Judge Samuel D. McVey speaks to Martin Joseph MacNeill and his attorney Randall Spencer during his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Prosecutor Chad Grunander declined to elaborate about the case beyond the charging documents.

"I'm sure we'll have some engaging and very entertaining arguments on the evidence and what it all means in the future," he said after the hearing.

MacNeill's attorney, Randall Spencer, said he expects his client to be cleared of the charges as the case unfolds.

"He has adamantly professed his innocence," Spencer said after the hearing.

Spencer said he believes prosecutors made a leap to conclude that MacNeill must have killed his wife because he was having an affair. MacNeill also had an affair with another woman for several months about two years before his wife's death, according to prosecutors.

"His daughters and in-laws have turned against him. It saddens him because he loves his family. Maybe someday they will have some pause and think, 'What if we were wrong and dad didn't kill Mom and the Utah state medical examiner was right that she died of natural causes related to hypertension and heart disease?'" he said.

Family members Kimberly Popish, Jill Harper-Smith, Linda Cluff, Alexis Somers, and Rachel MacNeill, left to right, talk to the media after attending the hearing. Martin Joseph MacNeill makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Family members Kimberly Popish, Jill Harper-Smith, Linda Cluff, Alexis Somers, and Rachel MacNeill, left to right, talk to the media after attending the hearing. Martin Joseph MacNeill makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Somers, Rachel MacNeill and their aunt Linda Cluff have pushed investigators for years to look deeper into Michele MacNeill's death, even though the medical examiner initially ruled it as accidental. Somers said the medical examiner re-considering the cause of death was key to moving the case forward.

Grunander credited the family for pushing police to investigate, but said the case didn't turn on any one thing.

"Our interest in this case is justice and we will pursue justice in this matter," he said. "We look forward to giving Michele her day in court."

Grunander described the investigation as "quite complex," saying it took detectives to California, Texas, Florida and New Jersey. A lot of the delays, he said, can be attributed to MacNeills' conduct on the day his wife died and in the days after.

Linda Cluff, left, and Alexis Somers hold each other after the hearing. Martin Joseph MacNeill makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Linda Cluff, left, and Alexis Somers hold each other after the hearing. Martin Joseph MacNeill makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

MacNeill had worked as a doctor and had a law degree, both of which police believe he used "to commit the murder and frustrate the investigation in an attempt to cover it up," the court documents state. It was also evident to prosecutors that in the months before and after Michele MacNeill's April 11, 2007, death, MacNeill "had a strong motive to kill his wife."

In the weeks before her death, MacNeill's wife and daughters had become increasingly suspicious and aware of an affair he was having with Gypsy Willis, the charges state.

"Gypsy's former roommate indicates Gypsy made statements about killing Michele and even discussed specific methods of making it look like an accident," the charges state. Shortly after Michele MacNeill died, Willis moved into the family home under the guise that she was the children's nanny.

Rachel MacNeill talks about her mother and her father, Martin Joseph MacNeill who is accused of murdering his wife. Martin Joseph MacNeill appeared in court Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Rachel MacNeill talks about her mother and her father, Martin Joseph MacNeill who is accused of murdering his wife. Martin Joseph MacNeill appeared in court Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Both MacNeill and Willis were later convicted of fraud-related crimes in federal and state court. MacNeill, a former clinical director of the Utah State Developmental Center, was released from a Texas federal prison July 6 after serving a three-year sentence for fraud, forgery and identity theft. 

MacNeill's daughters and other family members had expressed concerns for their safety when he was released and he returned to his Pleasant Grove home. The Deseret News first reported about the investigation in an in-depth report published in December of 2010.

Michele MacNeill had plastic surgery eight days before she died. Her husband "used the surgery and recovery period to obtain the necessary drugs and set in motion the circumstances to intentionally or knowingly cause Michele's death and conceal his involvement," court documents state.

Two days after the surgery, Michele MacNeill told her daughter Alexis: "If anything happens to me, make sure it wasn't your dad" and then cried, charges state. She was found dead in the bathtub 24 hours after her daughter left town to go back to medical school.

Family members Kimberly Popish, Jill Harper-Smith, Linda Cluff, Alexis Somers, and Rachel MacNeill, left to right, talk to the media after attending the hearing. Martin Joseph MacNeill makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Family members Kimberly Popish, Jill Harper-Smith, Linda Cluff, Alexis Somers, and Rachel MacNeill, left to right, talk to the media after attending the hearing. Martin Joseph MacNeill makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

MacNeill was arrested and charged Friday with murder, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony. He remained in the Utah County Jail Monday in lieu of a $1 million cash-only bail.

Prosecutors said they filed the obstruction charge because MacNeill allegedly removed his wife's pants, lied to a 911 operator about performing CPR, drained the tub where his wife was found, and lied about the position of her body to the medical examiner and others. The day of the death, MacNeill also convinced his son's girlfriend to throw away the remaining drugs that had been prescribed to his wife, the charges state.

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