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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Martin MacNeill, listens as the guilty verdict was read on the count of murder. He was also found guilty of obstruction of justice early Saturday morning, November 9, 2013. MacNeill is flanked by his attorneys, Randy Spencer, left, and Susanne Gustin.
In guilty verdict, MacNeill family finally finds justice

Murder case » Pleasant Grove woman’s death leads years later to a murder charge and now a conviction. Sentencing set for January for Martin MacNeill.

First Published Nov 09 2013 02:55 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:38 pm

Provo • After six years of pursuing justice for Michele MacNeill, her family members say they now can rest.

In the early hours Saturday, Martin MacNeill, 57, was found guilty of killing his wife of nearly 30 years. And now Michele MacNeill’s family, who relentlessly pushed investigators to look into the woman’s death, can sleep easier. They feel like justice has been served.

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"We don’t have to worry about Martin," niece Jill Harper-Smith said after the verdict was read. "We were all scared of him. He was a danger."

He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 7 — a far cry from the situation initially, when Michele MacNeill’s Aug. 11, 2007, death was not investigated as a homicide. An autopsy conducted in the days after she was found unconscious in a bathtub in her Pleasant Grove home ruled that the 50-year-old woman died of natural causes, the result of heart inflammation and high blood pressure.

But those closest to her — her daughters, her sisters and her niece — knew there was more to her death. They knew, they said, that Michele MacNeill’s doctor husband was involved.

In the week after Michele MacNeill died, her sister, Linda Cluff, went to Pleasant Grove police because she suspected foul play. But those officers were dismissive of her claims, especially after receiving the autopsy report that declared the woman’s death natural.

But family members didn’t give up. They continued seeking people who would listen to their allegation that Martin MacNeill killed his wife, sending letters, emails and information to the Utah County Attorney’s Office, pleading with them to look into the case. In January 2008 an investigation was opened, but it took over four years to put the pieces together and, in August 2012, Martin MacNeill was charged with first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice.

Fifteen months later, a five-man, three-woman jury would decide after 11 hours of deliberation that Martin MacNeill did in fact kill his wife.

"We went from nobody listening to look where we are today," Cluff said after the 1:10 a.m. verdict was read Saturday.

The verdict came after 13 days of testimony over four weeks, when prosecutors tried to build their case alleging Martin MacNeill gave his wife a fatal cocktail of prescription drugs, then drowned her in the bathtub. The motive, they argued, was to continue an affair with 37-year-old Gypsy Jyll Willis.

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Guilty • When the guilty verdict was read Saturday morning, Michele MacNeill’s supporters — including Cluff, Harper-Smith, and daughters Rachel MacNeill and Alexis Somers — gasped aloud as the verdict was announced, and immediately began sobbing and hugging. Martin MacNeill remained stoic, showing little to no emotion.

"We’re just so happy he can’t hurt anyone else," Somers said after the verdict was read. "There is justice for my mom today."

Martin MacNeill was found guilty of murder, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan scheduled sentencing for Jan. 7.

Martin MacNeill’s defense attorney, Randy Spencer, declined to speak with the media after the verdict, other than saying, "Of course, I’m disappointed."

Deputy County Attorney Chad Grunander told reporters about 2:30 a.m. Saturday that Martin MacNeill’s case was the most difficult he had ever prosecuted, due, in part, to the fact that it was not initially investigated as a homicide.

"We are absolutely thrilled," Grunander said of the verdict. "It was an amazing moment to meet with the family … I love it when the system works and it worked these last four weeks."

Grunander described the case as a "tough battle," but said there was a lesson to be learned.

"Don’t give up," he said. "Prosecutors, do the right thing. Push for justice. Victims, push for justice. Just be courageous."

Grunander said during his closing arguments on Friday morning that the drugs given to Michele MacNeill after she underwent plastic surgery at her husband’s demand worked as Martin MacNeill’s cover to hide an "almost perfect murder."

"Along the way, he left a number of clues that all point to him as a murderer," Grunanader told the jury.

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