Provo • Just days after her mother had died, Alexis Somers received a phone call from her father, Martin MacNeill, telling her that he had found the perfect nanny to care for her younger sisters.
He began to say the woman’s name — Jillian — before Somers interrupted him.
“You mean Gypsy Jillian Willis?” she testified that she asked her father. “I know that woman and I know that Mom was worried about you having an affair with her and you are not to bring her into this home.”
Somers testified Wednesday in 4th District Court that her mother, Michele MacNeill, had confided in her that she thought her husband was cheating on her. After looking through his phone records, Somers said she went online and paid for a service to trace a phone number. It came back to a Gypsy Jyll Willis.
“He got irate,” Somers testified about her father’s reaction to her accusation. “He was screaming at me, ‘How dare you, how dare you accuse me?’ ”
But just eight days after 50-year-old Michele MacNeill was found dead in her bathtub on April 11, 2007, Willis moved into the MacNeill family home, hired as the nanny.
Sabrina MacNeill, the MacNeill’s 19-year-old adopted daughter, testified Wednesday that Willis did not do any typical nanny duties.
“She made spaghetti once,” Sabrina MacNeill testified. “She didn’t do anything. She lived downstairs.”
Sabrina MacNeill said she often saw Willis go up to her father’s bedroom in the evening, and they would “vacation” together.
Martin MacNeill, 57, is on trial for allegedly killing his wife in order to continue an extra-marital affair with the now 37-year-old Willis.
Charges of first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice allege Martin MacNeill, a doctor, gave his wife a fatal combination of prescription drugs after she came home to recover from cosmetic surgery.
Somers testified Wednesday that she cared for her mother in the days after her surgery, keeping a meticulous log of what Michele MacNeill ate and what medications she took.
The day after Michele MacNeill’s April 3, 2007 facelift procedure — a gift from her husband — Somers testified that she began to care for her mother, but her father demanded that she leave her parents’ bedroom for the evening.
She slept in her sister’s room that night, and in the morning, she found her mother “very sedated.”
“I went over there to try to wake her up and she wasn’t waking up,” Somers testified.
When she confronted her father about why her mother was so sedated, Somers testified that he admitted to her that he gave her too much medication.
It wasn’t until early evening when Michele MacNeill — whose eyes were bandaged after the surgery — was awake enough to hold a conversation.
Somers said her mother told her that Martin MacNeill kept giving her pills the night before, even causing her to throw up. Michele MacNeill told her daughter she didn’t want her husband to give her any more medication.
“She had me take out every single pill,” Somers said. “She wanted to feel what the pills felt like in her hands, so that if my dad tried to give her anything, she would know what he was giving her.”
Somers testified that her mother continued to recover in the following days, and by the time Somers flew back to Nevada to continue medical school on April 10, 2007, her mother was up and moving and was well enough to eat her favorite chicken teriyaki meal at a Sizzler restaurant. Somers added that her mother’s use of prescription medications had also greatly decreased, and she was only taking a small amount of pain medication.
“She was actually feeling really well,” Somers testified. “She was joking around. She still had some bruising under eyes, still had some swelling, but most had gone down quite a bit.”
But the next day she called her father after missing a phone call from him during one of her classes.
“He said that your mother’s not breathing, she’s in the bathtub, I called an ambulance, and then [he] hung up,” Somers testified.
Somers testified that she raced to the airport and flew home. When she entered her parents’ Pleasant Grove home, she immediately began searching for her mother’s medications. They were all missing, and the black book that she had used to log her mother’s medications also was gone. She asked her father where the medication went.
“He said, ‘I don’t know, the police might have taken it,’ “ she testified.
But Eileen Heng, a former girlfriend of Martin MacNeill’s son, Damian MacNeill, testified last week that she flushed the pills down the toilet — at Martin MacNeill’s instruction.
Michele MacNeill was found unconscious in her bathtub on April 11, 2007, by her 6-year-old daughter, Ada MacNeill. The child said during an interview at the Children’s Justice Center in 2008 that she found her mother lying in the tub, fully-clothed in pants and a blue jacket. The water in the tub was brown, the girl said.
Ada said her father sent her to the neighbor’s house to get help.
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.
In the days after Michele MacNeill’s death, daughter Vanessa MacNeill, now 32, volunteered to nanny her four younger sisters, she said during her testimony on Wednesday.
But she said her father refused, saying everyone should get “back to their lives.” Instead, she was appointed by her father to a three-person hiring committee for a nanny, along with her brother, Damian MacNeill, and Heng. But Willis was the only applicant.
Vanessa MacNeill said after the interview, she called Somers and told her she didn’t need to worry about Willis being the nanny.
“I was convinced that she wasn’t somebody to worry about, that my dad might be involved with,” Vanessa MacNeill testified. “Because she was nothing like my mom.”
Also Wednesday, another woman who claims to have had an affair with Martin MacNeill in 2005 was called to testify.
Anna Osborne Walthall said that Martin MacNeill — who was the medical director at a laser hair removal clinic she owned — told her during “pillow talk”that you could give someone an undetectable substance that would start a heart attack.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Randall Spencer asked about Walthall’s mental health history, including being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder.
Spencer also asked Walthall about “dreams” she shared with investigators about the MacNeill case.
“I was processing and sometimes I give too much information,” Walthall testified.
Last year, Walthall testified at a preliminary hearing about Martin MacNeill having homicidal urges — information that was not allowed at the murder trial.
Martin MacNeill’s most recent mistress, Gypsy Willis, has testified that she met Martin MacNeill online in November 2005, and that their relationship turned sexual in January 2006.
Willis said that Martin MacNeill gave her a 4.5-carat diamond engagement ring in July 2007, worth about $7,000. Though the couple were never officially married, she said they presented themselves as husband and wife.
Phone records show Martin MacNeill called Willis’ cell twice from his work phone the morning of the day Michele MacNeill died, and they also exchanged 30 text messages, according to prosecutors.
Phone records also show the Willis and Martin MacNeill texted each other during Michele MacNeill’s funeral, which Willis attended.
Four drugs were found in Michele MacNeill’s blood after her death: oxycodone, promethazine, diazepam and zolpidem, which is also known as Ambien.
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 investigations say Martin MacNeill 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.”
The trial, scheduled to last five weeks, resumes Thursday with continuing cross-examination of Somers. Prosecutors also plan to call the medical examiner.
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