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Murder case: Woman testifies of affair with Martin MacNeill before, after his wife's death

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 10:46 p.m. MDT

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

PROVO — Giving calm, direct, matter-of-fact answers, the woman who had an affair with a Utah doctor accused of killing his wife, took the witness stand Wednesday.

Gypsy Jyll Willis, who also went by Gypsy Jyllian MacNeill at one point, testified on the fifth day of a preliminary hearing of Martin MacNeill, 56, who is charged with murder and obstructing justice in the April 2007 death of his wife, 50-year-old Michele MacNeill.

Prosecutors contend MacNeill killed his wife in order to be with Willis. Within weeks of his wife's death, Willis moved into the MacNeill house as the children's new nanny.

But Willis said that when she and MacNeill started seeing each other, there was no intention of a long-term relationship.

Witness Gypsy Willis looks to defendant Martin MacNeill while on the witness stand during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.  (Mark Johnston, ) Witness Gypsy Willis looks to defendant Martin MacNeill while on the witness stand during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Mark Johnston, )

"It was just for fun. It was whenever we could get together. It was just friendly," she said.

Willis said she met MacNeill during an online chat in 2005. They met for the first time in November of that year for lunch. By January 2006, their relationship had become sexual.

"I thought Martin was wonderful. I thought he was many of the things that would be wonderful to have in a regular relationship," she said.

However, she dated other men at the same time she dated MacNeill. Willis claimed there was never any thought, prior to Michele MacNeill's death, of Martin leaving his wife for her.

"There was no consideration at all in that direction," she said. "He had great respect and love for Michele. … He said he had a family and was very happy."

Martin MacNeill,  a doctor accused of murdering his wife, appears in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during his preliminary hearing. (Al Hartmann, ) Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, appears in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during his preliminary hearing. (Al Hartmann, )

However, after Michele MacNeill died, Willis said, "The circumstances changed completely."

At that point, the discussion did turn toward a life together. Willis conceded that after she moved in with MacNeill, she was acting as his wife.

Willis and MacNeill were later convicted of identity fraud and sentenced to federal prison for stealing the identity of MacNeill's 16-year-old adopted daughter. Willis was also convicted on a state charge after being released from federal prison. Prosecutors agreed not to seek additional jail time in exchange for her testimony against MacNeill.

While incarcerated, Willis said the two wrote letters to each other. She admitted they had plans to be together again in the future.

"Quite honestly, we have both lost everything," she testified of the circumstances both she and MacNeill are in now.

Rachel MacNeill, daughter of Martin MacNeill, at right testifies in his preliminary trial Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.  Martin MacNeill is a doctor accused of murdering his wife.  This was the first time in several years that Rachael had come face to face with her father.  (Al Hartmann, ) Rachel MacNeill, daughter of Martin MacNeill, at right testifies in his preliminary trial Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. Martin MacNeill is a doctor accused of murdering his wife. This was the first time in several years that Rachael had come face to face with her father. (Al Hartmann, )

Willis frequently looked over and smiled at MacNeill Wednesday, as the two made eye contact often. MacNeil is currently being held on $1 million bail at the Utah County Jail and has been appearing in court in a blue and white striped jail jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled.

In 2007, Willis moved into a duplex in Lehi that MacNeill owned. He also provided her with a debit card with an unlimited balance. She said it was to help her get through nursing school. She said she bought mostly gas, groceries and coffee with it.

Shortly after Michele MacNeill's death, Martin MacNeill announced to his family that Gypsy would be their new nanny. At that time, they simply knew her as Jyllian.

"Martin told me he felt very sorry we had been involved prior to Michele's death. He was embarrassed about that. He wanted me to come help him and support him," Willis said.

Martin MacNeill,  a doctor accused of murdering his wife, speaks to his defense lawyer Susanne Gustin in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during his preliminary hearing. (Al Hartmann, ) Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, speaks to his defense lawyer Susanne Gustin in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during his preliminary hearing. (Al Hartmann, )

But whether she moved in for support or as a mistress, Rachel MacNeill said Willis didn't act like any nanny the family had ever had before.

"She didn't do anything that a nanny would do," the MacNeill daughter said. "I expected to see what I had seen before (with those who) had been hired as nannies, that their main focus was the children. That they were there to work ... not just sitting and staring at my dad."

During her testimony, Rachel MacNeill was visibly emotional — a cross between sad and apparent anger — shaking her head several times as she recalled stories about her father and what happened in the months after her mother's death.

"(Willis) didn't seemed concerned about the children at all," MacNeill said before defense attorney Susanne Gustin objected.

During her testimony, Willis contended that she had walked into a "pretty well-oiled machine," where the children already knew how to take care of themselves, but she said she helped out where she could.

Independent medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper from Florida is questioned by defense attorney Randy Spencer during Martin MacNeill's preleminary trial in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Al Hartmann, ) Independent medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper from Florida is questioned by defense attorney Randy Spencer during Martin MacNeill's preleminary trial in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Al Hartmann, )

The first time Rachel MacNeill met Willis was three days after her mother's funeral at the LDS Mount Timpanogos Temple in American Fork. Rachel said her father had requested that she meet him there, something he had never done before.

Once there, Martin MacNeill told her he wanted the two of them to go inside the temple and pray for guidance about getting a new nanny. Afterward, she said a woman named Jyllian walked by them outside the temple. Her father, MacNeill said, acted as though he had forgotten her name and didn't know the woman very well.

Willis testified Wednesday that it was MacNeill's idea for her to meet Rachel for the first time at the temple. She said he didn't want them to know about their prior relationship.

"He wanted me to meet his family with the best foot forward," she said. "Martin thought (meeting at the temple) would be a conducive way to be introduced to Rachel. ... He thought it would be a nice place and a calming environment."

Rachel MacNeill, daughter of Martin MacNeill, at right testifies in his preliminary trial Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.  Martin MacNeill is a doctor accused of murdering his wife.  This was the first time in several years that Rachael had come face to face with her father.  (Al Hartmann, ) Rachel MacNeill, daughter of Martin MacNeill, at right testifies in his preliminary trial Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. Martin MacNeill is a doctor accused of murdering his wife. This was the first time in several years that Rachael had come face to face with her father. (Al Hartmann, )

After court, defense attorney Randy Spencer said he does not believe Willis' testimony helped the prosecution's case.

"I don't think Gypsy's testimony made any difference in any of the scientific experts' testimonies," he said. "Mr. MacNeill has done a lot of bad things in his life. Just because you're a bad man, however, does not make you a murderer. And the scientific evidence is key in relation to that, and the scientific evidence does not support Mr. MacNeill being a murderer."

After her testimony, Willis sprinted to her car to avoid questions from the media. Family members have said they suspect she was involved in Michele MacNeill's death, but she has not been charged in the case.

Willis' testimony often contradicted the testimony of her former roommates, Michelle Savage and Brandy Smith. They claimed Willis liked dating men with money. They also said she came home one day upset that MacNeill wanted to "cool things down" with her because his wife was getting suspicious.

Martin MacNeill speaks with his attorney Susanne Gustin upon entering the courtroom after a recess during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.  (Mark Johnston, ) Martin MacNeill speaks with his attorney Susanne Gustin upon entering the courtroom after a recess during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Mark Johnston, )

Savage said that's when Willis talked of possible ways to harm Martin MacNeill's wife.

"I was scared. I'm still scared of her," she testified. "I was scared to death of Gypsy when I moved out, that's why I moved."

Willis denied many of the allegations Savage made during her testimony. Savage conceded she never called police with her concerns because she doesn't trust law enforcers.

The testimonies of Willis and her former roommates weren't the only contradicting testimonies Wednesday.

Earlier, another in a string of doctors was called to the witness stand. Dr. Joshua Perper, who has 45 years of forensic pathology experience and recently retired as chief medical examiner in Broward County, Fla., testified that he believed drowning was the cause of MacNeill's death.

Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, speaks to his defense lawyers Randy Spencer, left, and Susanne Gustin in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during his preliminary hearing.  (Al Hartmann, ) Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, speaks to his defense lawyers Randy Spencer, left, and Susanne Gustin in Judge Sam McVey's 4th District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, during his preliminary hearing. (Al Hartmann, )

Perper, who was called to the witness stand by the state, disputed the findings of Utah State Medical Examiner Dr. Todd Grey — who was also called by the state to testify Tuesday — as well as one of Grey's former employees, Dr. Maureen Frikke.

Frikke, who died a couple of years ago, performed the initial autopsy on MacNeill after her death. She concluded the cause of death was myocarditis, or an inflammation of the heart.

Later, Grey made an addendum to the original autopsy, listing the cause of death as heart disease combined with drug toxicity.

Perper disagreed with the conclusions of both Grey and Frikke concerning the cause of death. He believes Grey did not have all the information that he did about fluids found in MacNeill's body. Otherwise, Perper believes Grey would have also come to a conclusion of drowning. He also believed both Grey and Frikke missed some findings in their autopsies, specifically in the lungs and kidneys.

Martin MacNeill, right, speaks with his attorney Susanne Gustin during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.  (Mark Johnston, ) Martin MacNeill, right, speaks with his attorney Susanne Gustin during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Mark Johnston, )

He agreed with Grey and Frikke, however, that four drugs found in MacNeill's system — Valium, oxycodone, Phenergan and Ambien — did not solely cause her death, but may have contributed.

Perper also agreed with Grey in listing the manner of death — meaning whether it was a homicide, suicide or accidental — as "undetermined." He said it's the job of a medical examiner to consider as much circumstantial evidence as possible when determining a manner of death. In MacNeill's case, he said suicide was very unlikely.

"It's so low in the scale that, in my opinion, it's virtually not a possibility," he said.

As for the possibility of murder, Perper said that the case "raises a serious question of homicide." But he felt he could not make the determination because he was relying mostly on reports and interviews conducted by others.

Witness Gypsy Willis passes defendant Martin MacNeill after taking the witness stand during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.  (Mark Johnston, ) Witness Gypsy Willis passes defendant Martin MacNeill after taking the witness stand during a preliminary hearing at the Fourth District Court in Provo Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Mark Johnston, )

"I think this is a case in which there are questions about manner of death," he said.

The preliminary hearing is expected to wrap up Thursday. Fourth District Judge Samuel McVey will determine if there is enough evidence to order MacNeill to stand trial.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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