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Doctor's mistress calls affair 'casual'

Published October 25, 2013 11:01 pm

Court • MacNeill allegedly killed wife to continue relations with Gypsy Jillian Willis.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Prosecutors allege Martin MacNeill's motive to allegedly murder his wife was to continue an affair with his mistress, but the "other woman" testified in court Friday that their relationship wasn't that serious.

"It was a very casual thing," Gypsy Jillian Willis testified Friday in Provo's 4th District Court. "Just when we had time and it could be arranged. We had sex half the time, sometimes it was just lunch."

But while Willis, 37, downplayed her affair with 57-year-old Martin MacNeill — who is accused of giving his wife a fatal combination of prescription drugs in 2007 after she came home to recover from cosmetic surgery — she admitted on the witness stand that the former Pleasant Grove doctor paid for a duplex in Lehi where she stayed in 2007, and helped her financially while she was in nursing school.

And in March 2007 — just a month before 50-year-old Michele MacNeill was found unconscious in her bath tub by her 6-year-old daughter — Willis wrote an email to a "potential suitor," according to prosecutors, expressing that she couldn't go on a date because she was in a relationship.

"Just recently, his reasoning and views changed, and we are together now," Willis wrote in the email, which was submitted as evidence by prosecutors.

Willis testified that she met Martin MacNeill online in late 2005, and her relationship with the man became sexual in January 2006 — during Martin and Michele MacNeill's 28th year of marriage. During 2007, she said she was busy with nursing school, and was seeing Martin MacNeill more often — and other men less — because she had moved to Lehi to be closer to him.

Willis testified Friday against her former lover as part of a plea deal with prosecutors from an earlier identity fraud conviction, where she and Martin MacNeill took the identity of one of the MacNeill's adopted children and altered it.

Willis, with Martin MacNeill's help, obtained false military identifications and Utah identifications under the name "Jillian MacNeill," according to court records. Willis' testimony was not completed Friday, and she is expected to take the witness stand again Tuesday morning when the trial resumes.

In an attempt to further prove that Willis' relationship with Martin MacNeill was more serious than she portrayed, Deputy Utah County Attorney Sam Pead showed her a number of phone records displaying texts and phone calls between Willis and Martin MacNeill around the time of Michele MacNeill's death.

On April 11, 2007, the two spoke twice in the morning hours before Michele MacNeill passed away, according to phone records presented in court Friday. And Willis and Martin MacNeill exchanged a total of 30 text messages that day.

Willis admitted that three days later, she attended Michele MacNeill's funeral. According to phone records, 22 text messages were exchanged between Willis and Martin MacNeill — several of which occurred during the funeral service.

"This was a very informal, discreet thing," Willis said of her affair with Martin MacNeill. "I think he was trying to keep it quiet. I respected that."

Days after the funeral, Willis said she met Martin MacNeill's oldest daughter at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Temple in American Fork, pretending as if she was just an acquaintance of Martin MacNeill's. She told Rachel MacNeill that her name was "Jillian."

"He wanted me to meet his family on the best possible terms," Willis testified.

Soon after, she would move into the home and work as a nanny for MacNeill's younger four daughters.

Martin MacNeill is on trial for murder and obstruction of justice. Friday ended the second week of what is expected to be a five-week trial for the Pleasant Grove man.

On April 11, 2007, Ada MacNeill, now 12, found her mother fully-clothed and face-up in the bathtub, according to the girl's preliminary hearing testimony. The child went 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.

Those medical crews also attempted to perform CPR and other life-saving efforts before Michele MacNeill was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Four drugs were found in Michele MacNeill's blood after her death: oxycodone, promethazine, diazepam and zolpidem, which is also known as Ambien — all central nervous system depressants, according to Gary Dawson, a clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist from Idaho, who also testified Friday.

Dawson, an expert witness brought in by prosecutors, testified that he didn't believe the individual doses of the prescription drugs found in Michele MacNeill's system were a lethal amount, but combined, they could have dramatic affects on the central nervous system.

"It would be likely that a person would be unable to respond constructively to their environment," Dawson testified. "They may be difficult to arouse ... and may not understand the circumstances surrounding them at that time."

He also classified Michele MacNeill as "drug naive," indicating that her ability to tolerate drugs and their symptoms would not be as high as someone who frequently used pain killers.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Randy Spencer confronted Dawson with an email sent to Utah County Attorney's Office investigators, where Dawson seemingly wrote that the toxicology report did not support the theory that Michele MacNeill was murdered by her husband.

"There's not a smoking gun in here, that I see," Dawson wrote to the investigators. "There is a lot of empty casings on the ground, but there's not a smoking gun."

Dawson said Friday that his reference to a "smoking gun" indicated that there was not one drug that could be singled out as being a lethal dose.

Spencer also pointed to an email from Dawson to Utah County Attorney's Office investigator Doug Witney, where we wrote about "looking for ways to get around the medical examiner's report."

But Dawson said Friday while it was a "poor choice of words," he intended to mean that getting over "the huge hurdle" of the original autopsy report would be difficult. The original report, completed shortly after Michele MacNeill's death in 2007, classified Michele MacNeill's manner of death as "natural," the result of "chronic hypertension and myocarditis, which are capable of causing acute unexpected arrhythmia and sudden death."

But investigators believe Martin MacNeill called the original 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."

Also Friday, Judge Derek Pullan ruled that the memories of Martin MacNeill's daughter, Ada MacNeill, of finding her mother in the bath tub when the girl was 6 years old, were tainted because of repeated questions asked by her older sister, Alexis Somers, after she had an interview at the Children's Justice Center.

"There is clear and convincing evidence that some of Ada's memories were planted or distorted by Alexis' repeated interviews with her," Pullan said Friday morning before handing down the ruling.

Pullan ruled that 12-year-old Ada's CJC interview can be presented to the jury, and though she will take the stand to be cross-examined by defense, she won't be able to give the complete testimony that prosecutors had wanted.

jmiller@sltrib.com