Defense seeks mistrial in MacNeill murder trial

Posted at 1:04 PM, Nov 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-06 19:50:50-05

PROVO -- A computer playing a TV report of the Dr. Martin MacNeill murder trial prompted an outburst from the judge, and a demand by defense attorneys for a mistrial.

A paralegal for the Utah County Attorney's Office had a laptop open on Wednesday morning, as attorneys were questioning a former cellmate of Dr. MacNeill's. The laptop began playing a report of the trial.

"Shut that off!" Judge Derek Pullan shouted in the courtroom, pointing toward the gallery. "Shut it off now!"

As people in the audience looked around for the source of the noise and the judge continued shouting, the paralegal snapped the laptop shut.

After the witness was done testifying, Judge Pullan ordered the jury to disregard the outburst. As soon as they had left for lunch, he addressed the court -- expressing his concern for not tainting the jury. Judge Pullan said he shouted in an attempt to mask the noise coming from the TV report.

Defense attorney Randy Spencer insisted the damage had been done.

"I think it's prosecutorial misconduct," he said, making a motion for a mistrial.

Prosecutors disagreed. The judge said he wanted to hear the report that was on the laptop before making a ruling on the mistrial.

After the lunch break, the report was played for the judge. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed the jury heard no more than 10 seconds of it.

"Even if the jury were to hear all of that report as recorded, it would have presented no new information," the judge said, denying the motion for a mistrial.

The trial continued with an inmate who served time with Dr. MacNeill in Texas, testifying that he admitted to killing his wife.

"We talked and he just pretty much opened up about it," said the man, known only as Inmate #1. "He said he gave her some oxy, and he gave her some sleeping pills. He got her in the bathtub, said he helped her out, held her head under the water for a little while."

Jason Poirier, who served time with MacNeill in the Utah County Jail, said the doctor told him "I'm getting away with murder."

"He said, 'I'm getting away with murdering my wife,'" Poirier testified.

Defense attorneys attacked the inmates' credibility, portraying them as opportunists who were offering information in exchange for better deals with prosecutors. Poirier was offered an immunity deal by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, after he told the court he would invoke his right against self-incrimination when defense attorneys questioned him about other crimes he's under investigation for.

"Their testimony is self-serving," Spencer told reporters outside of court.

Inmate #1 will return to the witness stand for more cross-examination on Thursday. Dr. MacNeill's mistress, Gypsy Willis, is slated to testify again. Prosecutors said they may rest their case Thursday afternoon.

Defense attorneys said they intended to call Jim Van Zant, a co-worker of Dr. MacNeill's; Linda Strong, a teacher of Ada MacNeill; and Brett Besson, an ergonomics expert to testify. They refused to say if Dr. MacNeill would testify in his own defense.

The jury could begin deliberations by Friday.