PROVO — Convicted murderer Martin MacNeill will get a two-month delay before he faces his next legal hurdle.
On Monday, 4th District Judge Samuel D. McVey delayed a two-day sexual abuse trial set for December until Feb. 4, 2014. The case stems from allegations that MacNeill groped one of his daughters on two occasions in 2007.
“The court would intend this to be a firm date unless you are in the hospital,” a seemingly reluctant McVey said.
MacNeill is charged with forcible sex abuse, a second-degree felony. If convicted, he faces a prison term of one to 15 years.
The incident was initially reported to police in 2007. Charges were filed, then dismissed. But the case was filed a second time by the Utah County Attorney’s Office in 2009, one year after prosecutors began investigating the April 2007 death of MacNeill’s wife, Michele, as a homicide.
But the sex abuse case was never considered an “insurance policy” against a circumstantial murder investigation that might not result in charges, prosecutor David Sturgill said after Monday’s hearing.
“The (sex abuse) evidence was just looked at with new eyes,” said Sturgill. “Not an insurance policy at all. We decided to pursue it because it’s a good case.”
Sturgill’s case against MacNeill has lagged for several reasons, including a defense motion that the Utah Court of Appeals took three years to decide and a four-year federal prison sentence MacNeill served following a conviction for identity theft.
Defense attorney Randall Spencer sought the most recent delay in part because he needs time to recouperate both emotionally and physically from MacNeill’s four-week murder trial that ended on Nov. 9.
A jury found the former doctor guilty of murder and obstruction of justice for killing Michele MacNeill in April 2007, drugging her with prescription medications and drowning her in the bathtub.
“I’m not in a state where I can possibly try this case in December," Spencer told the judge before asking to withdraw from the case. McVey refused the request.
Spencer also expressed concern that he could be called as a witness. That’s because Spencer had access to MacNeill’s email account in 2007 and saw or read emails his daughter sent to her father. Some contain statements that Spencer said may exonerate MacNeill, but the daughter has denied sending those messages in previous hearings, he said.
Since MacNeill would not likely take the stand in his own defense, that could leave Spencer as the only person able to contradict testimony from the alleged victim related to the communications, the defense attorney argued.
Sturgill said he wasn’t aware of the email issue until Monday and would have to look at and consider it before the February trial.
After the hearing, Sturgill said he was frustrated that the case was delayed again.
“The alleged victim in this case has been anxiously waiting for this case to be resolved for five, six years now,” he said. “We’re a little disappointed."
Alexis Somers filed a police report in September 2007 claiming two incidents of abuse in the three months following her mother’s death. In late May, she said she was sleeping in her parents' bed when she woke to find her father fondling her and kissing her hand, charging documents state. He was supposed to have been sleeping on a couch.
A similar incident allegedly occurred two months later during a family trip to California. In a police interview, MacNeill refused to answer questions, but upon hearing the allegations, he uttered: “A person cannot be held accountable for their actions while they are asleep,” court papers say.
The Deseret News does not typically name victims in sexual abuse cases, but Somers has previously spoken to reporters about the case.
According to Sturgill and Spencer, no plea agreement is in the works and MacNeill denies any abuse occurred.
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