Martin MacNeill to undergo mental evaluation

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PROVO -- A judge ordered convicted wife-killer Martin MacNeill to undergo a mental competency evaluation, derailing his upcoming trial on sex abuse charges.

At the beginning of the hearing on Tuesday, Fourth District Court Judge Samuel McVey announced that a new ruling by Utah's Court of Appeals essentially required him to order the mental health evaluation.

"Any time that trial counsel raises a bona fide doubt as to a defendant's competency to stand trial, the trial court is required to order a full hearing into competency," McVey announced. "So the court has no choice when that has happened."

Last week, MacNeill's defense attorney, Randy Spencer, filed a petition raising questions about his client's mental state. Utah County prosecutors objected, suggesting it was a delay tactic to avoid the upcoming trial where MacNeill is accused of groping a woman.

Judge McVey's decision halts the sex abuse trial, slated to begin next week. It was unknown late Tuesday if it were to affect his upcoming sentencing for the 2007 murder of his wife, Michele. Dr. MacNeill was convicted in a month-long trial of murder and obstruction of justice, accused of drugging and drowning her.

Shortly after being convicted, Dr. MacNeill attempted suicide by slashing his femoral artery with a disposable razor. Since then, Spencer said, his client's mental state has deteriorated.

Outside of court, Michele's family appeared frustrated by the delay.

"I think it's ridiculous but, you know, that's what the law states," said the MacNeill's daughter, Alexis Somers. "I don't want this to come up in appeal later on, but he uses this mental illness card whenever it suits him."

In court, Dr. MacNeill chatted with Spencer and then stared ahead as the proceedings went on. Judge McVey issued an unusual order prior to the hearing, forbidding TV cameras from filming the defendant in court.

"We have a motion for a change of venue for publicity and trial set in two weeks," he wrote. "The court wishes to avoid current picture of defendant on television pending trial. Will allow video of trial, however."

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