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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.

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During the trial, the jury heard from a number of witnesses, including the defendant’s lover, several of Martin MacNeill’s daughters — who believe he killed their mother — and two inmates who claimed MacNeill confessed the murder to them.

Prosecutors weaved a narrative that focused on Martin MacNeill’s bad or odd behavior — including the growing seriousness of his affair with Willis, his insistence that Michele MacNeill have a face-lift, asking that extra medications be prescribed for the woman and his reaction to his wife’s death — all added up to murder.

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"I think the mountain of motive in this case was just too much," Grunander said outside of court Saturday morning. " [Jury members] were very convinced."

Reasonable doubt • Spencer contended in his closing argument that the state presented no evidence "that rises to the level of beyond a reasonable doubt." He accused prosecutors of "cherry-picking" facts that supported their theory that Martin MacNeill killed his wife in order to welcome Willis into his life.

Spencer pointed to wording in the Utah medical examiner’s report indicating that drug toxicity "could potentially" or "may have had an effect" on the woman’s death.

That equals reasonable doubt, Spencer argued.

Spencer said there was no evidence that anyone but Michele MacNeill, herself, gave her any medications on the morning she died, April 11, 2007.

"Even if [Martin MacNeill] did, the medications were low," Spencer said, adding the drugs found in the woman’s system were at therapeutic levels. "They were very, very low."

Michele MacNeill was found unconscious in her bathtub by her 6-year-old daughter, Ada. 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.

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Those medical crews also attempted to perform CPR and other life-saving efforts before Michele MacNeill was taken to American Fork Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The state medical examiner’s office has never ruled the woman’s death a homicide, a fact that Spencer said showed reasonable doubt that Michele MacNeill was murdered.

After an autopsy in 2007, Michele MacNeill’s manner of death was ruled "natural," the result of "chronic hypertension and myocarditis, which are capable of causing acute unexpected arrhythmia and sudden death."

Turning point • But investigators said Martin MacNeill called the medical examiner multiple times and gave misleading information. In 2010, in a new investigative report, Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey changed the cause of death to the combined effects of heart disease and drug toxicity. The manner of death was changed to "undetermined."

Martin MacNeill’s attorneys argued at trial that the man had an alibi at the time Michele MacNeill died because he was at work at the Utah State Developmental Center. However, prosecutors pointed out in their closing arguments that there was a window of time — between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on the day of the death — when Martin MacNeill’s whereabouts were unknown.

Despite the defense’s attempt to establish an alibi, Grunander said that Martin MacNeill had plenty of time to leave work and "take care of business" at home.

"Give Michele the drugs, fix her up a bath, get her in the tub, hold her head down a little while. Help her out," Grunander said during closing arguments, paraphrasing the testimony of an inmate who claims MacNeill confessed to the killing.

The defense called only four witnesses, including a former co-worker of Martin MacNeill and his child’s kindergarten teacher, to back his alibi theory that he was at work at the time of Michele MacNeill’s death and could not have killed her.

Defense attorneys also brought in an ergonomics expert, who told the jury it would have been difficult for MacNeill to have lifted his wife from the bathtub by himself.

Martin MacNeill did not take the witness stand in his own defense.

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