PROVO — For the second time in eight months, Martin MacNeill has been convicted in 4th District Court, this time of a sex-related charge.
MacNeill, 58, convicted of murdering his wife, Michele MacNeill, in November, was found guilty Thursday evening of forcible sex abuse, a second-degree felony, for allegedly abusing his adult daughter about a month after his wife's death in 2007.
"I'm relieved. It was the right verdict. He's a sexual predator. There's some justice," Alexis Somers, MacNeill's daughter said outside of court minutes after the verdict was handed down in her favor.
A five-woman, three-man jury needed about two hours and 20 minutes to reach the unanimous verdict. When he is sentenced on Aug. 25 MacNeill faces a prison term of one to 15 years. He still awaits sentencing on the murder conviction.
"Regardless of the outcome, I think I'll be able to sleep a little bit better tonight knowing that I've done everything in my power to protect my family, protect my little sisters and others from my father, who is a murderer and a sexual predator," Somers said prior to the verdict being read.
Inside the courtroom, Somers and her sisters hugged as the verdict was read. They later could be heard letting out a collective squeal of joy as they were riding the elevator down to the parking lot.
Martin MacNeill, meanwhile, looked stone-faced as the verdict was read. He patted the shoulders of his attorneys afterward, apparently thanking them for their work.
Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Randy Spencer said the verdict would be appealed. He called the decision disappointing, but not surprising.
"I think there was lots of reasonable doubt in this case. So whether somebody thinks that he committed the offense or not, this is a case where there was reasonable doubt. He should have been found not guilty in my opinion," he said.
Spencer said one of the issues he had with the case were the testimonies of Somers and Rachel MacNeill, which made up about 95 percent of the testimony offered in court during the day-and-a-half trial. He did not say they lied on the stand, but he said he believed they "mis-remembered."
Utah County Deputy District Attorney David Sturgill, however, said jurors successfully listened to the evidence presented in court.
"And at the end of the day they came back with the right verdict," he said.
Somers also revealed Thursday that she refused to accept any plea deals in months leading up to the trial.
"I felt it wouldn't send the right message and I wanted to fight. I wanted him to face his accuser," she said.
Somers' testimony was the key part of the state's case. She alleges that while she was sleeping in her parents' master bedroom on her mother's bed, her father touched her inappropriately. She said her father later claimed that he thought that she was Michele MacNeill, his wife.
Originally, Somers filed a police report in September 2007 claiming two incidents of abuse in the three months following her mother’s death. The second incident, which allegedly happened during a trip to Disneyland, was not allowed to be presented in court. Somers told reporters Thursday outside of court that the second alleged incident was much like the first one.
MacNeill did not take the stand during the trial and the defense did not call any witnesses. Rather, the defense relied on Spencer's attempt to meticulously poke holes in the testimonies of MacNeill's two daughters in order to raise enough reasonable doubt for a jury to acquit his client.
Spencer particularly went through emails, texts and even postcard correspondence the sisters had with their father after the incident.
Spencer questioned why they inconsistently brought up the sex abuse charge, and then failed to mention it to police after Somers was kicked out of her father's house, even though she accused him of murder at that time.
Spencer argued the statements Somers and Rachel MacNeill gave to police and the courts were inconsistent. He also told jurors during closing arguments that the MacNeill daughters had a motive to slant their stories against their father.
Somers, however, testified that she needed to send sweet-sounding emails to her father to try to reconnect with him after she was kicked out. She said between the murder and sex abuse allegations, and the fact that her father's mistress, Gypsy Willis, had moved in by that time, she believed her sisters were in danger.
"My number one goal was to take (my sisters) out of the home," she said. "I was feeling panic, horror, fear, that my sisters were not safe and that they were in the home of someone who had just murdered my mom."
Somers said it was simply a "strategic" move to be nice to her father, and it wasn't because she believed he didn't do anything wrong. Once her father caught on to what she was doing, she had to "switch gears" and "play hardball," Sturgill said during closing arguments. He told jurors to simply use "common sense" when deliberating.
When Spencer questioned Rachel MacNeill about her emails to certain people and why she didn't mention anything about the alleged abuse, she replied, "I didn't mention my mother being murdered, either, but that happened too."
When Rachel MacNeill was asked on the stand whether her sister fabricated any allegations against her father, she replied with a loud, "Oh no!"
McNeill, who was clean-shaven and wore a suit and prescription glasses, was active in talking to his attorneys at their table, despite not taking the witness stand.
He has yet to be sentenced on his murder conviction as a judge considers whether to grant a retrial. Neither Sturgill nor Spencer believe his latest conviction for sex abuse will have any affect on the murder case.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company