MacNeill back in court on sex assault charge
Provo • The four-week murder trial at which Martin MacNeill was found guilty of killing his wife has left the former Pleasant Grove doctor and his defense team physically and emotionally spent.
They need time to recover, defense attorney Randy Spencer said Monday.
But they won't get much.
Beginning on Feb. 4, Martin MacNeill will stand trial on charges of sexually abusing a family member.
MacNeill, who appeared in 4th District Court on Monday wearing a red and white striped jail jumpsuit, is charged with forcible sexual use for allegedly putting his hand down the pants of an adult female relative in 2007 and then asking her to sign a statement saying he did not touch her.
The case was purposefully kept separate from the high-profile matter of MacNeill's murder trial, which wrapped up in the early hours of Nov. 8, when an eight-person jury found the doctor guilty of drugging and drowning his wife, 50-year-old Michelle MacNeill.
Regardless of the outcome of the sex abuse case, MacNeill faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced for first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice on Jan. 7.
MacNeill, 57, remained seated throughout Monday's hearing, his face drawn. His attorney said he hasn't been doing well since the murder conviction.
"It's very hard on him to be convicted of something he's always professed he didn't do," Spencer said, adding that MacNeill also denies all allegations of sexual abuse.
"It didn't happen," Spencer told a crowd of reporters and television cameras outside the courtroom Monday.
MacNeill faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.
Both sides hope that February's trial will bring a long-awaited resolution to the years-old case.
More than a year ago, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled that the sex abuse case which was dismissed by a judge in 2008, and then refiled by prosecutors in 2009 would be prosecuted separately from the murder trial.
On Monday, Judge Samuel McVey pushed the trial back from its originally scheduled December date to February, in order to allow MacNeill more time to prepare.
The judge, who expressed concern over how long the case has been pending, said it was the last extension he would grant.
Prosecutors argued that "any delay is detrimental."
"This case has been around for quite some time," Deputy Utah County Attorney David Sturgill said. "My fear is â¦ memories fade, key witnesses become unavailable. And the anxiety this case has triggered is going on and on and on."
It's been a long time coming for the alleged victim, who attended MacNeill's murder trial in support of the doctors slain wife, Michele MacNeill, and has waited years to put this case behind her as well, Sturgill said after the hearing.
"The alleged victim in this case has been anxiously waiting for this case to be resolved for four or five years now," Sturgill told reporters. "We were prepared to go to trial in December. We'll be prepared to go to trial in February."
A plea deal in the case is unlikely, as neither defense attorneys nor prosecutors have asked for one.
Spencer said proof of MacNeill's innocence in the sex assault case hinges, in part, on emails exchanged between the doctor and the alleged victim. When Spencer was hired as MacNeill's attorney in 2007, he said, he was given access to those emails.
On Monday, the attorney worried he may be called to testify as a material witness in the case and asked the judge to withdraw.
Had he been removed as MacNeill's attorney, the case would have been delayed even further.
The judge denied his request and prosecutors, who said they were unfamiliar with the email evidence, agreed to examine the issue more closely as the February trial date approaches.
Earlier this month, a jury of five men and three women convicted MacNeill of murder and obstruction of justice after 11 hours of deliberation and 13 days of testimony over four weeks.
Throughout the murder trial, which made national headlines and drew interest from around the world, prosecutors built a case against MacNeill, alleging that the doctor gave his wife a fatal cocktail of prescription drugs and then drowned her in a bathtub at their Pleasant Grove home in order to continue an affair with 37-year-old Gypsy Jyll Willis.