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Utah doctor convicted of wife's murder seeks new trial

Published June 30, 2014 12:16 pm

Courts • Martin MacNeill claims inmate was offered early release to testify against him.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's been nearly eight months since Martin MacNeill was convicted of murdering his wife, but it could take several more before a judge decides whether the former doctor should be granted a new trial in the murder case or whether sentencing can go forward.

On Nov. 9, a jury convicted Martin MacNeill, 57, of murder and obstruction of justice in the 2007 death of his wife, Michele MacNeill.

But the man has yet to be sentenced, because his attorneys filed a motion in January asking for Pullan to arrest judgment in the case or grant a new trial. They argue in a 30-page motion that prosecutors failed to give them all of the evidence about a federal inmate who testified that Martin MacNeill confessed to him that he drugged his wife and then drowned her in the bathroom at their Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007.

After hearing arguments from attorneys on Monday, 4th District Judge Derek Pullan took the matter under advisement.

Pullan said he would likely need 60 days to mull over the information. The Daily Herald reported that the judge felt it was a "clear error" that an affidavit was filed by prosecutors before trial in which they claimed the inmate was offered no special benefit. Prosecutors claimed they didn't know before trial that the inmate's attorney had requested a letter recommending an early release, and that a Utah County Attorney's Office investigator had agreed to write one, the Daily Herald reported.

During Martin MacNeill's four-week trial, the inmate, who was only identified as Inmate #1, testified about the former doctor's alleged confession and also testified that he understood that he would not receive a deal or early release for his testimony, as state prosecutors have no jurisdiction over federal inmates.

However, defense attorney Randall Spencer wrote in the motion that Inmate #1 has since been released from federal prison, ahead of his expected 2016 release date. Spencer wrote that he received more evidence in the form of emails and phone conversations in early December from federal authorities, which imply that the federal inmate did in fact believe his testimony in the MacNeill trial would grant him early release.

Spencer further accused the Utah County Attorney's Office of failing to disclose that a deal was in the works for the inmate, pointing to a letter sent by UCAO investigator Jeff Robinson to a United States Attorney that said Inmate #1 was "a very important witness" in the MacNeill case and recommended and encouraged leniency for early release. Spencer argued that this evidence could have been used to discredit the inmate's testimony at trial.

But in their written response, prosecutors claimed that no "secret deal" had been planned, and implied that the inmate may have been released, in part, due to concerns for his safety after Spencer apparently inadvertently addressed the inmate by name during the trial, which was being broadcast live by CNN.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander wrote in his response that after the trial, Robinson wrote a letter of recommendation for all four federal inmates who testified, each letter stating that the inmate was an "important" witness in the case. Grunander chalked up claims of a "secret deal" to a "conspiracy theory."

Though other inmates testified during Martin MacNeill's trial, Inmate #1 was the only one who testified that MacNeill told him specific details about how he allegedly murdered his wife. Without that testimony, Spencer argued that prosecutors failed to prove that 50-year-old Michele MacNeill died due to the actions of another. Because of this, Spencer asked the judge to dismiss to the case, or alternatively, grant a new trial.

Meanwhile, MacNeill will be in court later this week for a two-day trial related to a forcible sex abuse case, where the former doctor is accused of putting his hands down an adult female relative's pants in 2007.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller