The word ‘victim’ can’t be used in MacNeill murder trial

Posted at 4:37 PM, Sep 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-01 07:51:14-04

PROVO -- A judge has ordered prosecutors to not refer to Michele MacNeill as a "victim" in her husband's upcoming murder trial.

The ruling by 4th District Court Judge Derek Pullan came at the end of a long day of arguments over motions in the high-profile murder case of Dr. Martin MacNeill. The judge granted a defense motion limiting prosecutors' remarks in opening and closing statements, including the use of the word "victim."

Judge Pullan also instructed prosecutors to tell police officers they are not allowed to refer to Michele MacNeill as a "victim" in their testimony, as it makes the presumption that she was murdered (the jury must determine that).

"It's pretty clear in the case law that if there's a dispute as to whether or not a crime occurred, that the state's not to refer to the alleged victim as a victim," deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander told FOX 13. "So we're not surprised with that."

The judge also forbade prosecutors from inferring to the jury that Dr. MacNeill should be convicted of murder because he had an affair. Prosecutors agreed to not refer to Dr. MacNeill as an "immoral person."

After the judge's ruling, Michele MacNeill's daughter, Alexis, walked out of the courtroom.

"It's about Michele and I consider her a victim, so it's difficult to hear," said Linda Cluff, Michele MacNeill's sister. "But I have to go with what the court has decided and I have full faith in the prosecution."

Dr. Martin MacNeill is accused of killing his wife back in 2007 so he could continue an affair with a woman. Prosecutors claim she was drugged and drowned in a bathtub. Defense attorneys have claimed that Dr. MacNeill did not commit murder, and recently filed court documents stating that he had an alibi.

On Monday, the judge considered a flurry of legal motions:

  • The judge allowed TV cameras into the trial, but would not let them film a pair of inmate witnesses who were to testify that Dr. MacNeill had made jailhouse statements confessing to killing his wife;
  • Statements Michele MacNeill made shortly before her death to her daughter would be allowed in. Michelle MacNeill allegedly told Alexis MacNeill: "Alexis, I don't know why but you're dad just kept giving me pills..." The judge said he would wait until trial to make a final determination of whether the jury can hear the statements as well as claims she knew her husband was having an affair;
  • The judge refused to allow some statements Michele MacNeill made the day she died, referring to her husband as being "so sweet" but also warning her daughter that "if something happens to me..."
  • A woman Dr. MacNeill had an affair with will be allowed to testify, but statements she attributed to him may not be allowed. Defense attorneys said the woman was not mentally competent to testify, suggesting she had a multiple personality disorder. She will be allowed to testify that Dr. MacNeill once said "I know how to cause death by administering potassium, a drug which would be difficult to detect by authorities;"
  • A medical expert's testimony of his theories about Michele MacNeill's death will be allowed.

Dr. MacNeill is scheduled to go on trial for five weeks beginning Oct. 15. 120 potential jurors will be summoned to the Provo courthouse to begin filling out jury questionnaires, starting next week.