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Murder sentencing date set for Martin MacNeill

Published September 2, 2014 1:56 pm

Courts • The former doctor faces up to life in prison for murdering his wife in 2007.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • After 10 months of delays, a sentencing date has been set for Martin MacNeill, who was convicted last November of murdering his wife in 2007.

The 58-year-old former doctor faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 19 by 4th District Judge Derek Pullan.

Prosecutors at a trial last November convinced a jury that MacNeill drugged his wife — 50-year-old Michele MacNeill — then drowned her in a bathtub at their Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007.

Pullan on Friday rejected MacNeill's request for a new trial on charges of first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice.

The judge set a scheduling conference for Tuesday to set the sentencing date, but neither MacNeill nor his attorney, Randall Spencer, attended in person.

While discussing possible sentencing dates, prosecutors indicated that about two hours would be needed for the hearing, and Spencer — who appeared via telephone — inquired why such a lengthy hearing was necessary. He said his client does not plan to speak at sentencing and has no intention to cooperate with Adult Probation and Parole on their pre-sentence report.

"We don't need this big production," Spencer told the judge.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander told reporters after the hearing that it's true that the judge has little wiggle room in his sentencing — he is required to sentence Martin MacNeill to 15 years to life in prison for the murder conviction — but the hearing is important for Michele MacNeill's family.

"Victims have a right to be heard at sentencing," Grunander said. "It's an important part. To call it a production really minimizes victims' rights."

Grunander said two of MacNeill's daughters, Alexis Somers and Rachel MacNeill, along with Michele MacNeill's sister, Linda Cluff, will speak during the sentencing hearing.

"They have been waiting seven-plus years," Grunander said.

Tuesday's scheduling conference came after Pullan's Friday decision to deny Spencer's motion for a new trial, which the judge has been mulling over for several months since oral arguments were held in late June.

In that motion, Spencer claimed a federal inmate lied on the stand about a possible early release he received in exchange for his testimony and said that prosecutors did not disclose that a deal was in the works.

Pullan agreed that the inmate was not truthful on the stand and said the county attorney's office investigator who had agreed to write a letter of recommendation should not have sat silent during trial "allowing prosecutors to elicit false testimony" from the inmate about whether he was being offered any benefit for testifying.

However, Pullan ultimately ruled that even if the jury knew that the inmate had requested a recommendation letter — and that the investigator had agreed to write one — it likely would not have affected the outcome of the trial.

"If MacNeill had only to show that the state committed serious errors in the case, his motion for new trial would be granted," Pullan wrote in his motion. "But the law requires more."

Spencer said on Friday that they were "obviously disappointed" with the decision. Grunander said Tuesday that while prosecutors did not agree with the wording in parts of the ruling, he said they were "happy with the result."

The federal inmate in question testified that MacNeill confessed to him that he drugged and drowned his wife. This was the "most probative and damaging evidence" in the case, according to Pullan's ruling, that tied together a circumstantial case.

Prosecutors said MacNeill killed his wife so he could continue an affair with another woman, Gypsy Willis.

Sentencing in Martin MacNeill's sexual abuse conviction also has been delayed due to a defense motion.

Spencer filed a motion to dismiss the sexual abuse case against the former doctor, arguing that he was unable to effectively cross-examine victim Alexis Somers because police inadvertently lost her recorded police interview from 2007.

The sexual abuse occurred May 23, 2007, about five weeks after the death of MacNeill's wife.

Somers testified at trial that after she woke at the home to find Martin MacNeill rubbing her buttocks, and licking and kissing one of her hands, the man said: "Oh, oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I thought you were your mother."

Before the July trial, Spencer filed a similar motion to dismiss, asking for the case to be tossed because of loss of evidence. But Judge Samuel McVey denied the motion, saying that while there was some negligence in deleting Somers' interview, it was not "gross negligence" and it was not done in "bad faith."

A new sentencing date in the sex abuse case has been set for Sept. 15.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller