PROVO — The sex abuse trial of convicted murderer Martin MacNeill got underway Wednesday with the alleged victim, MacNeill's adult daughter, taking the witness stand.
Alexis Somers said she was asleep in her mother's bedroom just a month after her death when she was awakened by one of her father's hands going down her pants while he kissed and licked her left hand.
"He said, 'I thought you were (Michelle MacNeill),'" she testified.
MacNeill, 58, is charged with forcible sex abuse, a second-degree felony, for allegedly abusing his adult daughter. She filed a police report in September 2007 claiming two incidents of abuse in the three months following her mother’s death.
Michele MacNeill was found dead in April 2007. Martin MacNeill was convicted of overmedicating her after a facelift and leaving her to die in a bathtub.
The Deseret News does not typically name victims in sexual abuse cases, but Somers has previously spoken with reporters about the case.
If convicted, Martin MacNeill faces a prison term of one to 15 years.
On the witness stand Wednesday, Somers said she knew "right away" that her father was responsible for her mother's death. She was living in Nevada at the time and returned home to help take care of her sisters and go through her mother's drawers and closet.
Somers she said she fell asleep in her mother's bed on the night of the alleged assault, and her father slept on the couch. She said she was "disgusted" by what happened.
"I was very concerned for my younger sisters. There were a lot of things I was concerned about going on in the home. That was just one more thing to worry about," she said.
By the time she arrived at her father's house, Martin MacNeill's mistress, Gypsy Willis, had moved in.
After the alleged sexual assault, he had a discussion with his daughters, Somers said.
"He told (my sister) that he had reached for me and touched me inappropriately. (He said), 'What if it had been one of the young girls? I could have gotten in trouble,'" she said.
It was also during that time that she and her sisters "were questioning him about his relationship with Gypsy, and accused him of killing my mom," Somers said.
Because of that, she said, her father had her removed from the house for trespassing. Somers went to Cancun shortly after for a vacation, but she spent most of her time emailing her father or writing postcards to him, "just trying to amend some of the friction to get back home," she said.
Somers described her letters as "sweet and apologetic." A couple of postcards and a Father's Day card were admitted as evidence in court. In them, she wrote nice words such as, "Sorry. Please forgive me. I want to come back home. I need to be home," and, "I love you. We can get through this." Another card read, "Hi, Daddy. I hope you're feeling better. Can't wait to see you," and, "I know we have had some hard times lately, but we can get through this."
But Somers said she wasn't trying to actually make amends with her father because she still believed he killed her mother.
"I was trying to calm things down so I could get back to my sisters," she said. "I wanted to get back into my home to protect my sisters and fight for custody.
"My goal was to take my sisters away from (Martin MacNeill and Willis) and raise them," Somers said.
The first day of the trial ended before the defense could cross-examine Somers. The state was expected to call four or five witnesses to the stand.
Defense attorney Randy Spencer said he was still mulling whether to call any witnesses. Prosecutors hoped the case would go to the jury by Thursday afternoon.
Utah County Deputy District Attorney David Sturgill declined comment after Wednesday's hearing, only saying that he was pleased with the way the first day went.
The trial was delayed earlier this year when the court ordered a competency examination of Martin MacNeill. His lawyer claimed his client was slowly deteriorating in jail. Doctors found him mentally competent to stand trial.
Spencer also wanted a change of venue prior to the start of the trial because he didn't believe a fair jury could be seated due to the high-profile nature of his client.
As attorneys were questioning potential jurors Wednesday morning to select a pool, they asked if anyone had ever heard of Martin MacNeill, even if they didn't know the details of his case. Between 15 and 20 people raised their hands.
A five-woman, three-man jury was seated after several hours of answering questions. Any verdict by an eight-person jury has to be unanimous.
Martin MacNeill has yet to be sentenced on his murder conviction. A judge is considering his attorney's motion for a retrial. Martin MacNeill faces up to life in prison in that case.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company