Legal experts discuss MacNeill murder trial verdict

Posted at 5:40 PM, Nov 09, 2013

PROVO, Utah -- After nearly a month of trial, with a case that grabbed the attention of people across the country, a guilty verdict came in the Martin MacNeill murder trial after 11 hours of jury deliberation.

FOX 13 News’ Carly Figueroa consulted two local defense attorneys to get some insight on how that verdict may have been reached and what comes next.

The prosecution’s case was circumstantial, the medical examiner would not even say Michele MacNeill’s death was in fact a homicide.

So the jury had to find something else convincing. FOX 13 News asked two attorneys what that "something else" may have been.

Attorney Tanya Peters said the case drew a lot of attention.

“You had doctor dad, who also had training as an attorney, beauty queen mom, eight children and really a sensational aspect, and I think that’s what drew people to the trial,” she said.

Peters said a guilty verdict with no actual proof is rare but clearly possible if the circumstantial evidence is convincing enough.

“For murder convictions to result when the case is largely circumstantial is also uncommon, but clearly the jury deliberated for several hours—they took their job very seriously,” Peters said.

Attorney Clayton Simms said the verdict was slightly surprising.

He said: “What were his text messages? What was his behavior after? What was said on the 911 call? So it was his behavior surrounding the events rather than the event itself, so it is a little surprising there was a guilty verdict.”

Simms also specializes in criminal defense. After watching the MacNeill trial, he said there was no single moment, piece of evidence or testimony that lead to the guilty verdict

“They built their case up,” Simms said. “Maybe if you subtract the inmates, maybe it wouldn't have been enough. Maybe if you subtract Gypsy, so you don't know what piece of evidence tipped it over into the category of guilt.”

The defense worked to diminish the credibility of testimony made by MacNeill’s former prison cell mates, mistresses, and daughters, but in the end Peters said jurors believed the stories they were told.

“What motive do all of them have to fabricate this evidence? And so I think the fact that there were so many different types of witnesses from so many different walks of life, the jury took that and weighed that and clearly gave it a lot of credibility,” Peters said.

Many expect an appeal, but Simms said the doctor would only get a new trial if his team proves large errors were made

“Were mistakes made by the judge?” he said. “Were mistakes made by the prosecution or defense that prejudice the defendant so he gets a new trial? Not just small mistakes but significant mistakes."

Both of these defense attorneys told FOX 13 News the jury signaled the direction they were going with their questions to the judge. For example, they asked if he stood to inherit anything when his wife died. Our experts said that suggests the jury was thinking about "why" rather than "if" he committed the crime.

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