Martin MacNeill trial: What you missed and what’s ahead

Posted at 5:30 PM, Oct 21, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-21 19:30:46-04
By Amanda Sloane


(CNN) — Prosecutors dragged a bathtub into court for the first days of their case against Martin MacNeill and questioned whether the Utah doctor actually tried to save his wife after pulling her lifeless body onto the bathroom floor.

Martin MacNeill is accused of drugging his wife with a powerful cocktail of prescriptions and then drowning her as she recovered from face-lift surgery in 2007.

MacNeill, who has pleaded not guilty, could face life in prison if convicted. His attorneys say investigators were so intent on pointing the finger at MacNeill that they overlooked the simple fact that his wife died from natural causes.

Here’s what happened in the first week of testimony and here’s what is expected in the weeks to come:

Surgeon says MacNeill wanted stronger drugs for his wife

The plastic surgeon who operated on Michele MacNeill just days before her death was the first witness called to the stand on Thursday. Dr. Scott Thompson testified that it was Michele’s husband who asked him to prescribe more medications than he normally would have. Michele was found with several drugs in her system, including Valium, Percocet, Phenergan and Ambien.

“Martin indicated to me that he was very concerned about his wife, that she didn’t handle pain well, that she got very anxious and he was just concerned that she wouldn’t do well without having these other options available,” Thompson said.

“Would you have entrusted Michele with these drugs on her own?” asked Deputy County Attorney Jared Perkins.

“Not the ones I had prescribed,” replied Thompson, who said he only agreed to do it for Martin MacNeill because he was also a physician. Thompson recalled warning Michele about combining the drugs and her expressing a desire to take as little medication as possible after her surgery.

A surgery almost delayed

The doctor tasked with clearing Michele MacNeill for her face-lift surgery also testified on the first day of the trial. Dr. Von Welch described the mother as quiet, with little to say during their examination. At one point, he said, he asked to speak with her alone.

“I asked the defendant (Martin MacNeill) to leave the examining room because he was answering all the questions for her,” Welch testified. That’s when, he said, Michele MacNeill told him that “she was very depressed and stressed … she did not provide details.”

Welch was concerned about Michele MacNeill’s blood pressure and advised the couple to hold off on the surgery.

“(Martin MacNeill) was a little bit animated, a little bit excited to try and get things going,” Welch said. “At the point where I suggested things wait, there was a little bit of disappointment.”

He told the prosecutors that this reaction felt abnormal to him.

Neighbors have suspicions about MacNeill’s CPR attempts

Neighbor Doug Daniels took the stand on the second day of testimony and described how he performed chest compressions on Michele MacNeill after helping her husband pull her out of the tub.

Daniels described Martin MacNeill’s behavior as “very analytical and very in control and very calm. And other times he was … a little bit frustrated and he would holler out. A couple of times he would tell me to stop and he would thump on her chest — I believe he did it two or maybe three times — where he would beat on her chest with the bottom part of his hand. I assumed it was to try and start her heart or something. So he would have a bit of an outburst and then tell me calmly, ‘OK, continue.'”

Martin MacNeill was also making comments such as, “Why, why would you do this? All because of a stupid surgery,” according to Daniels.

Kristi Daniels, Doug’s wife, along with another neighbor, Angie Aguilar, were also in the bathroom that morning and testified Friday. All three of them report seeing a lot of mucus around Michele MacNeill’s nose and mouth but never seeing this transfer to her husband, who was giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Doug Daniels said on cross-examination, however, that he said in the past that he saw Martin MacNeill grab for something to wipe the mucus from Michele’s face.

The neighbors also say they never saw Michele’s chest rise as her husband was breathing for her. “He very easily could have been doing nothing, you know what I mean?” said Doug Daniels.

How was Michele MacNeill’s body found?

The bathtub prosecutors brought into the courtroom for the second day of testimony was used by the neighbors to show how Michele’s body was positioned that morning. They all agreed that her head was near the faucet while her feet were at the other end.

This point is important for the prosecution, who said in opening statements that Martin MacNeill told investigators he found his wife slumped over the side of the tub, with her head down in the water.

None of the investigators who heard this from MacNeill have taken the stand yet. Only one police officer, Ray Ormond, has testified so far and he said he overheard MacNeill describe the position of his wife’s body as slumped down inside the tub — not over the edge.

Did investigators ignore the scientific evidence?

Even though it’s the prosecutors who are putting on their case now, the defense did get a chance to talk to jurors during opening statements Thursday. Defense attorney Susanne Gustin said investigators were so determined to incriminate Martin MacNeill that they turned a blind eye to the scientific evidence, which she said shows Michele died from natural causes.

The original medical examiner working the case ruled that Michele MacNeill died of cardiovascular disease. The case was reopened about a year and a half later on the insistence of some of Michele’s family members. A second medical examiner determined that Michele died from “combined effects of heart disease and drug toxicity,” but could not determine if it was a homicide. A third doctor who reviewed the case said Michele MacNeill died from drowning, but also couldn’t say for sure if it was an accident or homicide.

More rescuers expected to take the stand

Court is dark on Mondays so testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET. More rescuers who were on the scene, along with a police officer and the fire chief, are expected to take the stand.

In the days ahead, jurors may hear from the couple’s daughter, Alexis, who now goes by her mother’s maiden name, Somers. She was a medical student at the time of her mother’s death and was by her mother’s side during her recovery. Somers is expected to testify about her suspicions surrounding her father’s behavior. She may also tell jurors that it was her father who pushed her mother to have the surgery.

Anna Osborne Walthall, a woman who says she was Martin MacNeill’s lover for several months in 2005, is also expected to take the stand at some point. She says MacNeill told her how to administer heart-stopping drugs that can go undetected.

There’s also MacNeill’s alleged mistress, Gypsy Willis, who could be thrown in the mix. Prosecutors say the doctor and Willis were having an affair and she’s the reason MacNeill was moved to kill his wife. The two were convicted of fraud charges in 2009 after using the personal information from one of MacNeill’s adopted daughters to create a new identity for Gypsy as “Jillian.” MacNeill listed “Jillian” as his wife on at least one document, with their marriage date the same day as his late wife’s funeral.

MacNeill’s trial is expected to take place over five weeks. The jury who will decide his fate is made up of six men and five women, which includes three alternates.

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