Provo • The sex abuse trial for Martin MacNeill, the former Pleasant Grove doctor recently convicted of killing his wife, is on schedule to begin in February.
MacNeill, 57, is charged in 4th District Court with one count of forcible sexual abuse, stemming from allegations that he put his hands down an adult female relative’s pants in 2007 and then asked her to sign a statement saying he did not touch her, according to charging documents.
MacNeill appeared in court Monday in a mismatched jail jumpsuit, his hair and beard unkempt. During Monday’s hearing, Judge Samuel McVey scheduled oral arguments on pre-trial motions for Jan. 23.
MacNeill’s two-day trial remains set to begin Feb. 4.
Last Friday, defense attorney Randall Spencer filed a number of motions in the sex abuse case, including a motion asking for the case to be dismissed or that Utah County prosecutors be barred from handling it.
Spencer argues in the motion that the county attorney’s office released non-public information about his client to the media from 2009 through 2012 in order to generate leads in the investigation into his wife’s death.
Spencer said that stories published by various media outlets insinuated that MacNeill was a “sexual predator” who raped multiple women and got away with it. The defense attorney alleges that the Utah County Attorney’s Office investigators and prosecutors released this information and that it was an “extrajudicial statement” that prejudiced MacNeill’s due process rights. Because of this release of information, Spencer said any potential jury pool is now tainted.
Spencer also filed a motion asking that the trial be moved to a different county. In that motion, Spencer wrote that publicity related to the murder trial — which garnered daily coverage in local and national media — would make seating an impartial jury in Utah County impossible.
Deputy Utah County Attorney David Sturgill told the judge Monday that he had received the motions that morning, and needed time to file a response.
Charges were originally filed in the sex abuse case in 2008, but were dismissed by a judge six months later. Prosecutors re-filed the case in 2009, which prompted an appeal from MacNeill’s attorneys, who argued the case could not be re-filed because the judge had not specified if the dismissal was with or without prejudice, meaning the judge did not say whether prosecutors could re-file the charges at a later date.
In an opinion issued in September 2012, the Utah Court of Appeals sided with the state, ruling that it cannot be assumed that anytime a case is dismissed that it is with prejudice.
MacNeill was scheduled to be sentenced this week in the murder case — where a jury found him guilty of murder and obstruction of justice in Michele MacNeill’s 2007 death — but Spencer told reporters outside of court that date will be delayed because he filed a motion on Dec. 27 asking 4th District Judge Derek Pullan to arrest judgment in the case or grant a new trial.
MacNeill’s attorneys argue in their 30-page motion that a federal inmate lied on the stand about a possible early release he received in exchange for his testimony, and that prosecutors did not disclose that a deal was in the works.
That federal inmate testified during Martin MacNeill’s four-week trial that the former doctor confessed to him that he drugged his wife and then drowned her a bathtub at their Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007.
Michele MacNeill was found unconscious in her bathtub by her 6-year-old daughter, Ada MacNeill, that day. 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, 50, was pronounced dead at American Fork Hospital.
Martin MacNeill has been housed in the Utah County jail since his 2012 arrest, though he was briefly hospitalized in early December after he attempted suicide.
Spencer said his client asserts that he did not kill his wife, and was wrongfully convicted.
“He’s really struggling,” Spencer told news reporters.