Provo • Martin MacNeill, a former doctor recently convicted of killing his wife, must have his mental competency evaluated before an unrelated sex abuse case goes forward, a judge determined Tuesday.
MacNeill is charged with one count of forcible sexual abuse, stemming from allegations that in 2007 he put his hands down an adult female relative’s pants.
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Judge: No MacNeill photos in hearing
Citing pretrial publicity and a pending motion to change the trial venue, 4th District Judge Samuel McVey banned television crews from photographing Martin MacNeill during a court hearing Tuesday, but said video of the trial would be allowed. Scores of photos and hours of video footage have been shot of MacNeill since his 2012 arrest.
But a Feb. 4 trial in that case is now cancelled.
"It appears there is a bona fide doubt of competency," said 4th District Judge Samuel McVey, who ordered two mental health experts to evaluate MacNeill in the next 30 days.
McVey said his ruling relied on a Utah Court of Appeals opinion released on Friday, where the court ruled that a Salt Lake County man who shot himself after the first day of his criminal trial should have received a competency review based on his history of mental illness and the possible suicide attempt. The high court reversed the man’s convictions, finding that the trial judge erred by refusing to order a full competency hearing.
On March 3, MacNeill will be back in court for a competency review.
Last week, MacNeill’s attorney, Randall Spencer, filed a motion saying that he believes MacNeill’s mental and physical health have deteriorated while he has been on suicide watch at the Utah County jail. Spencer questioned his client’s ability to help prepare for trial in the forcible sexual abuse case.
In the motion, Spencer said MacNeill — who has suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since his late teens — has been kept in isolation since he attempted to cut his femoral artery at the Utah County jail on Dec. 5. He is not allowed to shave, and is given only a robe to wear and a thin mat to sleep on. Spencer said his client also is not being given proper nutrition as part of his vegetarian diet. Medical records show MacNeill has lost 17 pounds in the past two months, according to the attorney.
But daughter Alexis Somers told reporters she felt the mental health evaluation was "ridiculous," adding that she was not sympathetic of her father’s conditions at the jail.
"The last seven years, I haven’t been sleeping well since my mother died," Somers said. "I don’t feel sorry for the circumstances he’s in."
She said she believes her father will be found competent to proceed with trial.
Spencer said MacNeill has suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since his late teens.
Meanwhile, sentencing in the murder case — where a jury found MacNeill guilty of murder and obstruction of justice in his wife’s 2007 death — was put on hold earlier this month after Spencer filed a motion asking Judge Derek Pullan to arrest judgment in the case or grant a new trial.
MacNeill’s attorneys argue that a federal inmate lied on the stand about a possible early release he received in exchange for his testimony, and that prosecutors did not disclose that a deal was in the works.
The federal inmate testified during MacNeill’s four-week trial that the former doctor confessed to him that he drugged his wife, 50-year-old Michele MacNeill, and then drowned her a bathtub at their Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007.
Arguments in that case are set for Feb. 20. Prosecutors raised concerns Tuesday that MacNeill’s competency evaluation will delay sentencing in the murder case, but McVey — who is not the judge in the murder case — said he didn’t believe it would.
"We sentence incompetent people all the time," McVey told the attorneys.
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