PROVO — In court documents filed ahead of Dr. Martin MacNeill’s high-profile murder trial, Utah County prosecutors are asking a judge to ban TV cameras from the courtroom.
A motion filed by the Utah County Attorney’s Office asks a judge to prohibit filming of the trial, alleging it could endanger inmate witnesses who would testify that MacNeill had confessed to killing his wife, Michele, in 2007.
“This inmate witness will testify that the Defendant admitted to killing his wife, how and why he killed her, that the Defendant believed authorities could not prove he killed his wife, and that the Defendant looked forward to being with a girlfriend when he was released from prison,” prosecutor Chad Grunander wrote in the motion.
Another inmate believed he would be a “dead man,” if his face were to be broadcast on television, prosecutors wrote.
The case against Dr. MacNeill has drawn national media attention that has only intensified as it has moved closer to trial. Television magazine shows have devoted hours to the case of the Utah County doctor accused of killing his wife so he could be with his mistress.
Utah recently adopted a rule allowing TV cameras inside courtrooms, carving into it a presumption of openness. TruTV has expressed an interest in broadcasting portions of the trial, according to a court motion filed by an attorney for CNN.
“Prohibiting the television cameras is not going to solve the harm the state is alleging,” said Jeff Hunt, a media attorney who is representing CNN in this case. “The identity of these prison witnesses is well know, it’s plastered all over public records, it’s in the public domain. All banning television cameras will do is prohibit the public from actually seeing and hearing what happens in a courtroom.”
MacNeill’s trial is expected to last more than a month when it begins on Oct. 15. Prosecutors claim MacNeill drugged and drowned his wife in a bathtub inside their home, so he could continue an affair with a woman.
But in a new filing, defense attorneys offered an alibi for MacNeill: he was at work.
“At the time Michele MacNeill passed away, Martin MacNeill was at the Utah State Developmental Center,” defense attorney Randall Spencer wrote in a motion.
The alibi defense claims that MacNeill went to work between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on April 11, 2007 — leaving only to take his daughters to school and was back at work at 9 a.m. He left the Utah State Developmental Center again at 11:30 to pick up one of his daughters.
Defense attorneys claim witnesses can corroborate MacNeill’s alibi, but Greg Skordas, a criminal defense attorney who is not connected to the case, said they can be risky. Unlike reasonable doubt, which challenges the burden of proof the state offers — an alibi offers a completely different theory of the case.
“The risk is that the jury will say, ‘the state’s case is more believable. We like the state’s case, and defense you haven’t put on a good case and therefore we don’t have much doubt about the state’s evidence,’” Skordas told FOX 13. “We’ll wait and see what the defense case holds, but that’s the risk you run when, as a defense attorney, you say, ‘Oh no, no, the state’s got it wrong. Here’s what really happened.’”
MacNeill’s trial is expected to begin on Oct. 15 and last more than a month.