Questions arise over convicted killer MacNeill’s competency
Courts • Attorney says convicted murderer’s isolation since suicide attempt is killing him.
Published: January 23, 2014 10:02PM
Updated: January 23, 2014 09:00PM
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Michele MacNeill

Provo • Since he attempted suicide in December, Martin MacNeill has not been the same man, according to his attorney, Randall Spencer.

His unshaven face is drawn. His eyes are red. He is gaunt.

According to Spencer, the measures taken at the Utah County jail to ensure that MacNeill doesn’t hurt himself again may be actually harming the former doctor, who was recently convicted of murdering his wife.

“The manner in which he is being housed is slowly killing him,” Spencer wrote in a motion filed Thursday, adding that MacNeill’s mental health has deteriorated to where Spencer questions his client’s ability to help in preparing for trial.

Spencer filed the motion Wednesday in 4th District Court, asking for MacNeill’s mental competency to be evaluated before an upcoming trail on a sexual abuse charge.

In the motion, Spencer said MacNeill has been kept in isolation since he attempted to cut his femoral artery at the Utah County jail on Dec. 5. He is not allowed to shave, and is given only a robe to wear and a thin mat to sleep on. Spencer said his client also is not being given proper nutrition as part of his vegetarian diet.

Because of these conditions, Spencer said his client’s mental and physical health have deteriorated.

“I believe his mental illness is flaring up,” Spencer told Judge Samuel McVey on Thursday. “I don’t believe he can rationally engage with me in planning the trial.”

Spencer said his client has suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since his late teens. The attorney argued in the motion that MacNeill can not assist in his defense in the sex abuse case, and no longer cares about the proceedings in the case.

Deputy Utah County Attorney David Sturgill told the judge that while MacNeill is likely not “100 percent” rational, he argued that state statute requires only that a defendant have a “reasonable degree” of rationality.

“He’s looking at a long prison term,” Sturgill said. “He’s been convicted of murder. He’s been on suicide watch in lousy conditions. Does that mean he can’t operate with a reasonable degree of rationality? I don’t think this petition reaches that threshold.”

McVey scheduled a hearing for Jan. 28, where evidence will be presented about MacNeill’s alleged deteriorating mental health. Afterward, the judge will decide whether a competency evaluation by medical professionals is required.

Outside of court, Sturgill said he could not comment about whether Spencer’s claims had merit, because he has not had the time to investigate them.

“I think the timing is very suspect,” Sturgill said. “We are a little frustrated.”

If the competency evaluation is granted, it will most likely delay MacNeill’s upcoming trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 4, where is charged with one count of forcible sexual abuse, stemming from allegations that in 2007 he put his hands down an adult female relative’s pants.

MacNeill’s daughter, Alexis Somers, told reporters outside of court that their family is frustrated with the recent motion, and said they want to resolve the manner and put it behind them.

“I think he uses the mental health card when it suits him,” said Somers, who testified against her father at his murder trial last year.

Sentencing in the murder case — where a jury found MacNeill guilty of murder and obstruction of justice in his wife’s 2007 death — was put on hold after Spencer filed a motion asking Judge Derek Pullan to arrest judgment in the case or grant a new trial.

MacNeill’s attorneys argue in the 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.

Arguments in that case will be held on Feb. 20.

The federal inmate testified during MacNeill’s four-week trial that the former doctor confessed to him that he drugged his wife, 50-year-old Michele MacNeill, and then drowned her a bathtub at their Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller