Murder hearing: Daughter claims dad overmedicated mom
Court • Woman testifies pills vanished the day her mom died.
Published: October 7, 2012 05:30PM
Updated: January 14, 2013 11:31PM
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Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo Martin MacNeill, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, appears in 4th District Court in Provo in October. A judge on Monday ruled that for the first time in Utah, TV cameras will be allowed to live broadcast a criminal court trial when MacNeill faces a jury in mid-October.

Provo •On the day of her mother’s death, the first thing Alexis Somers did after her plane touched down in Utah was rush to her family’s home and into her mother’s bedroom, searching for bottles of medication and a notebook in which she had kept meticulous notes of how her mother had been medicated.

Somers, a medical student, had been taking care of her mother, Michele MacNeill, after her mother had a facelift.

“[There was] nothing,” she testified in 4th District Court on Friday. “No pills. The hospital bed was gone. … Everything that was in there the day before was gone, including her medication, which I went specifically looking for.”

She said she immediately confronted her father, Martin MacNeill — who is accused of killing his wife in order to free himself to have a relationship with a mistress. Her father said he thought the police might have taken the items while they were investigating the death of Michele MacNeill , who was found in a bathtub in the family’s Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007.

But Eileen Heng, an ex-girlfriend of MacNeill’s son, Dameon, testified during MacNeill’s preliminary hearing Friday that her boyfriend’s father instructed her to flush the medication down the toilet that same April day, after Dameon and his father took a count of all of the pills left in the prescription bottles.

Somers said she never found those bottles or the black notebook logging how her mother was medicated.

Somers was concerned because the day after her mother’s facelift, on April 5, 2007, she felt her father had overmedicated her mother.

Somers had flown in from Nevada during her spring break to care for her mother after the surgery. She had kept a journal of exactly how much medication her mother was taking, and what she ate, down to the last drop of water that her mother drank.

“I was just trying to take really good care of her,” she said. “My mom was kind of like my patient. I was giving her her medication, helping her go to the bathroom, things like that.”

That evening, Somers said her father sent her from the bedroom, saying that he would care for his wife that night. Somers stayed in a bedroom nearby with her little sister, Ada. When she woke up in the morning, she found her mother unresponsive.

“She was completely out of it,” Somers testified. “She was very sedated. I tried to wake her up and she wouldn’t wake up.”

When she asked her father why her mother wouldn’t wake up, he admitted that he may have overmedicated her.

“I said, ‘I am going to be in charge of her medication now,’ ” Somers said she told her father. “You are not to give her any more.”

He didn’t argue with her, Somers said.

Somers said when her mother woke up in the early evening that night, she was fearful.

“She said, ‘Alexis, I don’t know why, but your dad kept giving me pills, giving me medication,’ “ she said. “ ‘I started to throw up and he kept giving me pills, saying take this, take this.’ “

In August of this year, MacNeill, a 56-year-old doctor, was charged with first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice.

MacNeill allegedly gave his 50-year-old wife a deadly mixture of prescription drugs so he could continue an affair with a woman named Gypsy Jillian Willis.

After the hearing ends next week, Judge Samuel McVey will decide if there is enough evidence to order MacNeill to stand trial on the charges.

During Friday’s hearing, Somers and her father never acknowledged one another, or even so much as locked eyes. She looked in his direction only when asked to identify him inside the courtroom.

Somers also testified that her father told her on the day of her mother’s death that he had found his wife face-down in the tub, with her legs sticking out, as if she had slipped and fallen head first into the tub. But a number of people, including neighbors and the young daughter who found Michele MacNeill that day, testified this week that the woman was lying on her back, her body fully inside the bathtub, when they first saw her.

Somers also described a falling-out within the family after MacNeill insisted on hiring a nanny in the weeks after her mother’s death. He told her that he posted fliers soliciting the position, but only one applicant was interviewed: Gypsy Willis, the woman with whom Michele MacNeill feared her husband was having an affair.

Despite his children’s protests, MacNeill hired Willis to care for the four younger children.

“He said he didn’t want his kids controlling his life any longer,” Heng said.

Somers said Willis stayed in MacNeill’s home even after the four younger children had left to stay with a couple in California, and eventually with Somers in her Henderson, Nev., apartment.

Somers said he confronted her father multiple times about his relationship with Willis, and only once, after a neighbor told Somers that they were spotted making out in Ikea, did he admit to a romantic relationship.

“He said, ‘We’re going to get married in the temple,’ ” Somers testified. “Then he hung up.”

Somers, who testified for several hours Friday against her father, said being on the witness stand was difficult.

“This is a man I loved a majority of my life, who I thought was our protecter,” she said. “I really looked up to him. I thought he loved us.”

The state medical examiner has never ruled Michele MacNeill’s death a homicide. After an autopsy in 2007, her manner of death was ruled “natural,” the result of “chronic hypertension and myocarditis, which are capable of causing acute unexpected arrhythmia and sudden death.”

But investigators say Martin called the medical examiner multiple times and gave misleading information. In 2010, in a new investigative report, Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey changed the cause of death to the combined effects of heart disease and drug toxicity. The manner of death was changed to “undetermined.”

In recent years, other experts have also reviewed the case.

Douglas Rollins, a University of Utah professor of pharmacology and toxicology said he believed Michele MacNeill had taken a potentially lethal dose of medication. Rollins testified Friday that through an analysis of Michele MacNeill’s toxicology reports, he concluded that some of the prescription drugs found in her system may have been taken one to two hours before her death.

But Randy Spencer, one of MacNeill’s defense attorneys, refuted Rollins’ analysis, citing several studies that concluded analyzing blood post-mortem may be inaccurate for observing drug concentrations when the person was alive. McVey, however, allowed the testimony.

A medical examiner in Florida determined the immediate cause of death was drowning and that, contrary to the Utah medical examiner’s findings, there was no evidence of acute or active myocarditis.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller