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Witnesses describe Martin MacNeill's 'odd' behavior at wife's death, pillow talk about killing

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 7:29 p.m. MDT

Martin MacNeill (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Martin MacNeill (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

PROVO — The day his wife died, Martin MacNeill was "different," "odd" and, according to at least three witnesses, "angry."

Scott Van Wagoner, who said he knew MacNeill on a professional basis, said MacNeill seemed to be directing his anger at his wife, Michele. But that wasn't the part of Martin MacNeill's behavior that day that really struck him.

"The oddest statement, to the point of being bizarre, was he offered me $10,000 to not stop my resuscitation efforts," Van Wagoner testified in 4th District Court Thursday. "Clearly, this patient came in dead. … It was a pretty odd request."

Anna Osborne Walthall, a woman who said she had an affair with MacNeill in 2005, testified that they often talked about killing — specifically MacNeill's history of killing that included his brother and his ability to kill without detection. She described these conversations as "pillow talk."

Family members Kimberly Popish, Jill Harper-Smith, Linda Cluff, Alexis Somers, and Rachel MacNeill, left to right, talk to the media after attending a hearing for Martin Joseph MacNeill on Aug. 27, 2012. MacNeill is accused of murdering his wife, Michele MacNeill, in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, 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 a hearing for Martin Joseph MacNeill on Aug. 27, 2012. MacNeill is accused of murdering his wife, Michele MacNeill, in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Their testimonies were two of seven offered Thursday during the second day of a five-day hearing to decide whether the Pleasant Grove doctor should stand trial for murder in his wife's 2007 death. Prosecutors believe MacNeill killed his wife by giving her a "dangerous combination" of drugs and drowning her.

Michele MacNeill was found dead in the bathtub on April 11, 2007, eight days after she had undergone cosmetic surgery on her face. Then-Pleasant Grove police officer Ray Ormond said he and his partner, Josh Motsinger, were the first to arrive at the MacNeill home and took over resuscitation efforts.

He said the woman "seemed abnormally cold" and testified that water began coming out of her mouth as he and Motsinger administered CPR. He said this was "typical for someone who's been submerged." MacNeill told the officers that his wife had undergone cosmetic surgery.

Martin Joseph MacNeill (Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Martin Joseph MacNeill (Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"He was upset with her about having the cosmetic surgery," Ormond said. "He said she was on a lot of medication and that he was upset with all the medication she was on. He said he didn't think she needed the operation and was upset with her for having it."

This was reiterated by Van Wagoner, who also said MacNeill seemed angry at his wife for undergoing surgery and said to her, "Why did you have to have this done?" while Van Wagoner was working to revive the woman.

Yet on Wednesday, the doctor who performed MacNeill's operation said the couple approached him together about the procedure and both seemed enthusiastic about it. Dr. Scott Thompson said Martin MacNeill had "the more dominant personality" and his wife deferred to her husband on many questions, but he wouldn't have performed the operation unless he felt Michele really wanted it.

Thompson testified that MacNeill had specifically asked for additional medications for his wife, explaining that he wouldn't have prescribed those if he hadn't known that Martin MacNeill was a doctor.

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. He is charged with murdering his wife Michele MacNeill in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, 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. He is charged with murdering his wife Michele MacNeill in 2007. (Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Walthall, who worked with MacNeill while trying to establish a laser hair removal business in Park City in 2005, said he became her friend and support during a "terrible" divorce. Their relationship eventually involved "into a sexual relationship, an affair."

Their discussions about killing were "fairly frequent," she testified. MacNeill told her he tried to kill his mother when he was 8 years old. When his mother was once passed out drunk, Walthall said MacNeill told her he gathered medication from throughout the house and put it in a beer that he helped his mother drink until she stopped breathing. His sister apparently came in, called 911 and the woman survived.

"One time I asked him if he had regretted that," Walthall said. "He said he regretted that there wasn't more medication in the house."

A photo of Michele MacNeill in her daughter's home.   (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) A photo of Michele MacNeill in her daughter's home. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

MacNeill also told her that he'd killed his brother, who often cut his wrists, by submerging him in the bathtub, she testified. He allegedly told her drowning was a common way for people who cut themselves to die and he didn't worry that anyone would ask him about it.

Walthall also said MacNeill told her he wrote an anonymous article in a medical journal that explained how to induce a heart attack and make it appear natural and that he talked about killing patients. He told her if he ever got caught, he wouldn't plead insane.

"I said, 'Why not?'' Walthall testified. "He said, 'Because I always know exactly what I'm doing.'"

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin asked Walthall numerous questions about her own diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder and the fact that the woman often wrote of her love for MacNeill without mentioning these alleged admissions. Walthall said she contacted police after Michele MacNeill died. She said she receives treatment for the disorder, but said it does not affect her memory or her ability to discern fact from fiction.

Old photos of Michele MacNeill. (Submitted, Submitted) Old photos of Michele MacNeill. (Submitted, Submitted)

"I believed that Martin was a murderer and he could not stop," Walthall said of what she told police.

The MacNeills' then-6-year-old daughter testified Wednesday that she was the first to find her mother in the bathtub and remembers her being fully clothed in a jogging suit. Kristi Daniels, a neighbor who responded to the young girl's request for help, her husband, Doug Daniels, another neighbor who assisted and the two responding officers all testified that MacNeill was unclothed from the waist down when they arrived.

Ormond said Martin MacNeill was irritated when he and other officers arrived and took over CPR efforts, even though MacNeill had called 911.

"He was angry with us," Ormond said. "He was angry with what we were doing, but as paramedics arrived … he focused his anger on someone else. It was uncomfortable, honestly, having him come in and out of the room yelling at us. … It seemed that a lot of his rage was focused on Michele."

Old photos of Michele MacNeill. (Submitted, Submitted) Old photos of Michele MacNeill. (Submitted, Submitted)

Pleasant Grove Fire Chief Marc Sanderson said MacNeill's unusual behavior "instantly" drew his attention as he arrived. He said the incident was unlike any other medical call he had responded to involving the death of a family member. He said MacNeill was shouting and trying to tell paramedics what to do.

"He was very angry, blaming, almost a rant," Sanderson said. "It was to the point where, responding as the fire chief, I had to remove Mr. MacNeill from where the resuscitation was happening, because it was distracting."

The night MacNeill died, her husband gave the couple's son an LDS blessing, neighbor Doug Daniels testified, and he seemed much more calm than he had been earlier in the day.

"He was not overly emotional," Daniels said of Martin MacNeill. "He was in control. He seemed emotionally very strong considering what was happening. I remember thinking that (he) was more in control than I would have been."

Old photos of Michele MacNeill. (Submitted, Submitted) Old photos of Michele MacNeill. (Submitted, Submitted)

When Daniels and his wife tried to help MacNeill administer CPR earlier that day, he said the man's demeanor kept changing.

"He was very analytical sometimes, telling us what to do then telling us to stop," Daniels said. "Then he would be motionless, listening, then have an outburst over the situation. He'd stop and say, 'Why? All because of this stupid surgery! OK, continue.' I thought it was kind of strange how his mood would change."

About a month after the death, Martin MacNeill spoke in church on Mother's Day. Angela Aguilar, a neighbor who attended his LDS ward, said it was "heart-wrenching."

"I thought it took a lot of strength to speak that close after," she testified, adding that she later learned that MacNeill spoke at his own request.

Doug Daniels said MacNeill later told him that his wife had died of a heart irregularity and said "there was nothing anyone could do about it." Soon after, neighbors testified, a woman named Gillian arrived at the home to act as a nanny for his younger children. But she remained even after the children went away for a month, leading the Danielses and Aguilar to suspect that their relationship was romantic.

Martin Joseph MacNeill walks to the podium as he makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo on charges accusing him of murdering his wife Michele MacNeill. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Martin Joseph MacNeill walks to the podium as he makes his initial appearance Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, before Judge Samuel D. McVey in Provo on charges accusing him of murdering his wife Michele MacNeill. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

In the weeks before her death, prosecutors say Michele MacNeill and her daughters had become increasingly suspicious and aware of an affair he was having with Gypsy Willis, who Kristi Daniels said was another name for the woman she knew as Gillian.

A former roommate of Willis told investigators Willis made statements about killing Michele MacNeill "and even discussed specific methods of making it look like an accident," according to the charges against him.

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

The preliminary hearing continues Friday morning.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Alexis Somers keeps framed photos of her mother, Michele MacNeill, around her home in South Jordan on Aug. 24, 2012. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Alexis Somers keeps framed photos of her mother, Michele MacNeill, around her home in South Jordan on Aug. 24, 2012. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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