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Attorney: Martin MacNeill will appeal his murder conviction

Published November 16, 2013 2:25 pm

Courts • Before he is sentenced, ex-doc faces separate sex-abuse case.
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News that Martin MacNeill is planning to appeal last week's jury verdict — finding him guilty of killing his wife — wasn't news at all to Michele MacNeill's family members.

Niece Jill Harper-Smith said Friday they were expecting an appeal "from the get-go."

"We're ready for that process," Harper-Smith said Friday during a TribTalk online forum. "We'll do it all over again. All we ever wanted to do was give Michele a voice and get it to trial so she could be heard. And that's what we did, and we're willing to accept whatever comes about now."

After a four-week trial and 11 hours of deliberation, a 4th District Court jury on Nov. 9 convicted Martin MacNeill, 57, of first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice in the 2007 death of his 50-year-old wife.

He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 7 by 4th District Judge Derek Pullan.

Prosecutors convinced a jury that Martin MacNeill — a former doctor — gave his wife a fatal cocktail of prescription drugs, then drowned her in a bathtub at their Pleasant Grove home. His motive, they argued, was to continue an affair with 37-year-old Gypsy Jyll Willis.

Martin MacNeill's defense attorney, Randall Spencer, said Thursday that his client plans to appeal the conviction, but did not say on what grounds. "That's all yet to be discussed with an appellate attorney," he said.

Neither Spencer nor co-counsel Susanne Gustin —who, according to court documents, both worked for free to defendMartin MacNeill in the murder case — will handle the appeal.

Spencer said Thursday that working on Martin MacNeill's case pro bono through the last 15 months was "the right thing to do."

"Though I respect the jury's verdict, I respectfully disagree," Spencer said. "I believe that Martin was being prosecuted based on a lot of circumstantial evidence. I felt that it was important to defend the system, not just Martin MacNeill."

Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander said he would not be surprised by an appeal.

"I think in almost any murder conviction case that goes to a jury, there's going to be an appeal,"Grunander said last week. "From our point of view, we suffered the month or so leading up to trial with some tough evidentiary rulings. I think we have a strong record for appeal purposes."

During the trial, the jury heard from a number of witnesses, including Willis, several of Martin MacNeill's daughters — who believe he killed their mother — and two inmates who claimed the defendant confessed the murder to them.

Prosecutors weaved a narrative that focused on Martin MacNeill's bad or odd behavior — including the growing seriousness of his affair with Willis, his insistence that Michele MacNeill have a face-lift, asking that extra medications be prescribed for the woman and his over-the-top reaction to his wife's death — saying it all added up to murder.

Harper-Smith said that after the verdict was read, her family was able to speak to the jurors, who told them that the pieces that led them to the guilty verdict started falling into place during closing arguments.

"They shared with me it was the obstruction of justice that really made them go with a guilty verdict," Harper-Smith said. "Being able to see thathe's lying to police officers, he's disposing of evidence — and that's behavior of a guilty person."

Prosecutors claimed the former doctor lied to police about how Michele MacNeill's body was positioned when she was found, and that he had his son's girlfriend dispose of Michele MacNeill's medications just hours after her death.

Michele MacNeill was found unconscious in her bathtub by her 6-year-old daughter, Ada MacNeill, on April 11, 2007. The child was sent by her father to a neighbor's house to get help, and eventually Michele MacNeill was pulled from the bathtub by a neighbor and Martin MacNeill. The two attempted CPR before medical crews arrived.

Michele MacNeill was pronounced dead at American Fork Hospital.

Harper-Smith said after her family heard the news of her aunt's death, they felt Martin MacNeill was involved, and pushed to have Michele MacNeill's death investigated.

Knowing of Martin MacNeill's past — that he had forged his transcripts to get into medical school, that he was charged with felonies before he married Michele MacNeill, and that he left one of his adopted children in the Ukraine and forged her ID for his mistress to use — were red flags to the family.

"All of the behavior was really suspicious," Harper-Smith said. "We didn't think it was fair to not have a thorough investigation done."

Before Martin MacNeill's sentencing in January, he must deal with additional criminal charges. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday for oral arguments related to a 2007 sexual abuse case.

Martin MacNeill is charged with forcible sexual abuse and tampering with a witness, after an adult female relative alleged that in October 2007 — just six months after Michele MacNeill had died — Martin MacNeill put his hands down her pants and then asked her to sign a statement saying he did not touch her, according to court documents.

That case was filed in October 2007, but dismissed six months later. It was re-filed by prosecutors in January 2009.

A two-day trial has been set to begin Dec. 3. However, Spencer said he has asked the judge for a delay because the four-week murder trial required extensive preparation.

"I am in no mind-set to try any case, let alone another one of Martin's," Spencer said Thursday.

Judge Samuel McVey will likely rule on Spencer's motion to continue at Monday's hearing.


Twitter: @jm_miller






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