PROVO — On the day Martin MacNeill’s wife was found dead in the bathtub of their Pleasant Grove home, his behavior was “hysterical” but not suspicious, a former police detective said Tuesday.
“He was very hysterical, animated,” said Marc Wright, who now works for Lindon police. “Lots of hand gestures and moving about the room between the bathroom and the bedroom.”
But that bombastic behavior, including swearing, pacing, and episodes of shouting “Why did she have the surgery?” and pleading for his wife to “come back to him” didn’t trigger a homicide investigation, the detective testified in Provo’s 4th District Court.
Wright photographed the MacNeill home and documented blood spots on the bathroom floor, the tub and a pile of Michele MacNeill’s soaking wet clothing cut off by paramedics, but never returned to the home after the former beauty queen was pronounced dead.
“You never came back to the house to do any follow-up investigation?” defense attorney Randall Spencer asked Wright during cross-examination in Martin MacNeill’s murder trial Tuesday. “At that time you did not think his behavior was suspicious?”
“No,” Wright said.
Michele MacNeill, 50, was found dead in the tub by her youngest daughter, Ada, on April 11, 2007, about a week after she had a facelift. Utah County Attorney’s Office investigators began to examine the death in 2008 and finally brought criminal charges against her husband in 2012.
An autopsy found Michele had taken a combination of four drugs — Lortab syrup, Ambien, oxycodone and Valium — prescribed following her plastic surgery a week earlier. Prosecutors contend MacNeill used the drug cocktail to render his wife incapable of walking or fending off threats to her safety and then drowned her. They believe MacNeill wanted his wife out of the way so he could begin a life with his mistress, Gypsy Willis.
On Tuesday, prosecutors put a stream of police, paramedics and firefighters on the stand. Their accounts were similar: MacNeill was erratic, animated and loud. He barked orders at paramedics for his wife’s resuscitation efforts and treatment, questioned her decision to have surgery and claimed he told her it wasn’t necessary. MacNeill also said he thought his wife had overdosed on painkillers and railed against God for Michele’s apparent death, Pleasant Grove Fire Chief Sanderson said.
“He said that based on his affiliation (with the LDS Church) and the amount of money he’s donated, this is how God repaid him,” Sanderson testified.
Later at the hospital, MacNeill also begged emergency room workers to save his wife, saying he would "give them all he had," former paramedic Steven Brande said, adding on cross-examination that MacNeill cried when Michele was finally pronounced dead.
Also testifying for the jury of six men and five women was Steven Mickelson, a nurse practitioner who was supervised by MacNeill at the Utah Developmental Center.
Mickelson told the jury he also went to the MacNeill home on the morning of Michele’s death and that a “distraught” MacNeill shoved a phone at him so he could tell MacNeill’s daughter, Alexis, that something had happened to her mother.
“I told her to get up here (from Las Vegas) and fast,” said Mickelson. “I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that her mother looked like she was dead."
Mickelson, who described MacNeill as a person with a strong personality, said he was surprised by MacNeill’s return to work about a week later — before the allowed bereavement days were exhausted. He also said he noticed MacNeill was wearing a different wedding band than he had in the past — a gold and black band instead of a plain gold one.
Finally, Mickelson said that in 2002 he had prescribed a trio of drugs for Michele MacNeill at her husband’s request. Michele reportedly hurt her neck after hitting her head on a headboard and needed some pain relief. Mickelson said he was “uncomfortable” with the number of pills Martin MacNeill asked for but complied as a “professional courtesy” and as a one-time thing, until she could be seen.
After testimony ended on Tuesday, the judge and attorneys discussed whether Ada MacNeill will be allowed to testify before the jury. Ada, who was 6 in 2007 and is now 12, was the first person to find her mother in the bathtub.
Spencer objected to her testifying, contending that her memories have been tainted over time by conversations she has had with others — specifically her sisters — who pushed for the death to be investigated as a homicide. Spencer said he fears Ada’s memory has been so compromised that “there is a high probability of false memories.”
Judge Derek P. Pullan will delay the start of Thursday’s court testimony to hold a two-hour hearing on the issue. Prosecutors will put two investigators and sister Alexis Somers on the stand to try to establish that Ada’s accounts of what occurred have not altered over time.