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Pleasant Grove doctor accused of killing wife closer to trial

Published August 12, 2013 2:52 pm

Courts • Judge denies motions to disqualify prosecutors and to bar witnesses' testimony.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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 • An effort to have Utah County prosecutors thrown out of proceedings against a Pleasant Grove doctor accused of killing his wife failed Monday, moving the case one step closer to its October trial date.

Attorneys defending Martin MacNeill, who faces murder and obstructing justice charges in the 2007 death of his wife, argued several motions before 4th District Judge Samuel McVey on Monday in an effort to disqualify the county attorney's office and bar several witnesses from testifying in the case.

Defense attorneys argued the county attorney's office intentionally withheld nearly 1,000 pages of documents, some of which, they said, could support MacNeill's innocence in the case. They also argued that two witnesses, who were friends with the doctor's mistress, should not be allowed to testify because their accounts would prejudice the jury against their defendant.

"Introducing these previous bad acts will simply muddy the water in an already circumstantial case," argued defense attorney Randy Spencer. "It's inadmissable."

The judge disagreed.

McVey denied MacNeill's motion to exclude the county attorney's office, saying they did not intentionally hinder the case, and will wait to rule on some of the witness testimony until the trial is underway and MacNeill's former mistress, Gypsy Willis, has had a chance to testify before the jury.

It was a win for prosecutors, who are confident the five-week trial set to begin in October will go as planned.

"We're happy, of course, but this was the ruling we expected all along," lead prosecutor Chad Grunander said after Monday's hearing. "We look forward to trying this case."

According to court documents, MacNeill was having an affair at the time of his wife's death and devised a plan to kill her in order to continue the affair. By allowing the testimony of the two women, who were roommates with Willis while she was dating MacNeill, jurors will gain insight into the nature of the doctor's extramarital relationship and the intent behind the alleged murder, prosecutors argued.

"This is about someone who wanted to get rid of her lover's spouse so she could take that person's place; she was putting pressure on her boyfriend, Mr. MacNeill," said prosecutor Samuel Pead. "Gypsy was the mistress, she was the motive."

At a preliminary hearing last year, Michelle Savage and her daughter, Brady Smith, testified that Willis had spoken about a man she dated named "Neil," who was a married doctor and lawyer. Smith also said she was sure that she once saw MacNeill come to the house.

They also said that Willis had talked of cutting brake lines and researching toxic drugs to kill her lover's wife.

"I was scared to death of Gypsy when I moved out," Savage told the court. "I'm still scared of her."

On April 11, 2007, MacNeill's wife was found dead in her bathtub. The doctor called 911, but allegedly lied to the dispatcher about performing resuscitation and lied to police about events surrounding her death, charges state.

After an autopsy in 2007, Michelle MacNeill's manner of death was ruled "natural," the result of chronic hypertension and myocarditis. Three years later, the case was reviewed. In 2010, the woman's manner of death was changed to "undetermined," and attributed to heart disease and drug toxicity.

Prosecutors believe MacNeill gave his 50-year-old wife a deadly concoction of prescription drugs after she came home to recover from cosmetic surgery.

MacNeill has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Although a plea deal is always on the table, prosecutors said they have not reached any agreements with MacNeill's attorneys and don't anticipate doing so before the October trial.

On Monday, the judge also ruled that the state's chief medical examiner Todd Grey could testify only as an expert witness on the autopsy and other medical questions but could not comment on the merits of the prosecution's case against MacNeill.

MacNeill will again appear in court next month.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae