Inmates to testify in Martin MacNeill trial
By Amanda Sloane
(CNN) — Four inmates who served time with Martin MacNeill, the former doctor on trial for the death of his wife, are expected to take the stand in the coming days as the fourth week of the murder trial begins Tuesday.
These former cellmates, who will be identified by numbers and not names, say MacNeill told them he killed his wife and he didn’t think law enforcement would be able to prove it.
Prosecutors spent the third week of testimony trying to show the former Utah doctor had a motive to kill his wife, who was drowned in the bathtub, according to their medical experts.
MacNeill has pleaded not guilty to murder and obstruction of justice charges in his wife’s death. His defense attorneys say investigators were so intent on pointing the finger at MacNeill that they overlooked the simple fact that his wife, Michele, died from natural causes.
Here’s what happened in the third week of testimony and what is expected in the days to come:
Mom of MacNeill’s mistress: He told me he never loved his wife
Prosecutors say Martin MacNeill was motivated to kill his wife to continue his affair with a woman named Gypsy Willis. Willis took the stand October 25 and again briefly on Tuesday. She couldn’t recall many details from the day MacNeill proposed, saying, “The relationship has been over a very long time.” Her mother, however, seemed to remember the day well.
Vicki Willis testified that her family set off fireworks for the couple while they visited Cheyenne, Wyoming, on July 4, 2007, less than three months after MacNeill’s wife died. The next day, according to Vicki Willis, MacNeill threw a party at a local restaurant.
“They were both very, very happy and he made a speech about his love for her and made a very public show of dropping to one knee and asking her to marry him and she said, ‘Yes,’ and it was a happy event,” Vicki Willis testified. “Frankly, we were giddy about Martin joining the family. Martin MacNeill is a very impressive person. He’s tall, he has a bright, white smile. He holds the title of doctor and also attorney … we were pleased, of course. Who wouldn’t be?”
Following her daughter’s engagement, Vicki Willis said MacNeill made a startling confession about his love — or lack thereof — for his late wife.
“He said to me that he had never loved Michele. And then he amended that to say, ‘Well I did, I loved her as a sister but I did not love her the way I love Gypsy,'” Vicki Willis testified.
An alibi and strange behavior at his wife’s funeral?
Prosecutors called Roma Henrie, one of Martin MacNeill’s former co-workers, to testify about a Safety Fair that took place at work the morning Michele MacNeill died. Henrie said she snapped a group photo at an awards ceremony that included Martin MacNeill.
“He said, ‘Did you get me in that picture? Make sure you got me in that picture. … You maybe better take a second one, make sure you got me in that picture,'” Henrie testified.
Several of Michele MacNeill’s friends testified about the speech Martin MacNeill gave at his wife’s funeral, saying it focused mainly on him. Michele’s sister, Linda Cluff, also testified about some specific comments Martin MacNeill allegedly made at the luncheon following the funeral.
“He was smiling, joking around with some gentlemen. … It was particularly disturbing to me, it caught my eye to listen more because he was joking, saying he’s going to have to get used to living the life of a bachelor and hanging out with buddies and golfing — something to that effect,” Cluff said.
MacNeill’s daughter: He overmedicated mom days before her death
Alexis, who now goes by her mother’s maiden name, Somers, was a first-year medical student in April 2007 and said she had plans to stick by her mom’s side during her recovery from face-lift surgery. On the night her mom got home from the hospital, however, she said her dad “insisted that I leave. He pretty much forced me out.” She stayed in her sister’s room that night, and the next morning — April 5, 2007 — Somers said she found her mom “overmedicated” and not responding to questions.
“I went to my father and I said, ‘What happened? Obviously mom is overmedicated.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I think I gave her too much medicine. I must have given her too much medicine,'” Somers said. “I asked her what happened. … She said, ‘Lexi, I don’t know why but your dad kept giving me medication. He kept giving me things, telling me to swallow.’ She said, ‘I even started to throw up. …’ She was upset. I knew my mom — I could hear it in her voice.”
Somers also said her mom knew about her father’s affair with Gypsy Willis and that she talked to him about it shortly before her death.
“My mom had confronted him previously but she confronted him again at that time and said, ‘I don’t believe your story, I want the phone records, I’m not going to let this die’ — that’s what she said. … He told her that she was crazy. He said it’s ridiculous, he’s not having an affair. He said that she couldn’t get his phone records,” Somers said.
Somers left her mom in her dad’s care on the night of April 10, 2007, so she could return to medical school in Nevada. Less than 24 hours later, her mother was dead.
New medical examiner amends the cause of death for Michele MacNeill
The medical examiner who performed Michele MacNeill’s autopsy, Dr. Maureen Frikke, said she died from heart disease and that her manner of death was natural. Frikke died from breast cancer in 2008 and some of her cases, including Michele MacNeill’s, were passed on to Dr. Todd Grey, the chief medical examiner of the state of Utah.
Grey was asked to give Michele MacNeill’s case a second look. He amended the cause of death to include the possibility that “drug toxicity” — or the “adverse effect of drugs on the body” — may have also played a role in her death. Michele MacNeill was found with several drugs in her system — including Valium, Percocet, Phenergan and Ambien — the day she died.
Grey couldn’t say for sure that Michele MacNeill was drowned or that the drugs alone may have caused her death, but he did say it’s a possibility based on the other evidence made available to him from the case.
“If you were to learn the defendant here had told somebody — or others — that he had drugged up Michele MacNeill and convinced her to get into the tub and held her down for a little bit, and it caused her death, would that scenario be consistent with how Michele MacNeill may have died here?” asked prosecutor Chad Grunander.
“Yes, certainly it’s possible,” Grey said.
The defense pointed out that it took Grey two years from the time he was asked to look at the case until he amended the cause of death. The defense suggested Grey was pressured by investigators. Grey, however, insisted that he wasn’t pressured and that he amended the cause of death after seeing more evidence in the case.
Another medical examiner says Michele MacNeill died from drowning
Prosecutors hired a third medical examiner to look at the case, Dr. Joshua Perper, who is now retired but used to be the chief medical examiner for Broward County, Florida. Perper is the only medical expert to say he believes, “within the reasonable degree of medical certainty,” that Michele MacNeill died from drowning.
“It was clear she was inhaling a significant amount of water,” Perper testified.
Perper said he based his conclusions, in part, on testimony from a first responder who treated Michele MacNeill the day of her death. That first responder said Michele MacNeill regurgitated three to four cups of fluid as they tried to resuscitate her and then an additional three cups of fluid later. Key chemicals in Michele MacNeill’s blood were also “remarkably diluted,” according to Perper. He said the level of dilution could only be explained by water entering her lungs and crossing through tiny blood vessels and into her bloodstream.
The defense tried to suggest that the first responder may have been mistaken when estimating how much fluid he saw.
Prosecutors said they intend to call Jeff Robinson, the lead investigator in the case, to the stand in the coming days. It is likely the prosecution will rest its case after Robinson testifies.
Court is dark on Mondays so testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning. The jury who will decide Martin MacNeill’s fate is comprised of six men and five women, which includes three alternates. MacNeill could face life in prison if convicted.
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