Utah doctor gets up to life in wife's murder

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

PROVO, Utah (AP) — A Utah doctor convicted of murdering his wife in a case that became a true-crime cable TV obsession was sentenced Friday to 17 years to life in prison at a hearing in which his daughter called him a monster.

The long-awaited sentence came seven years after prosecutors say Martin MacNeill knocked out his wife with drugs prescribed following cosmetic surgery and left her to die in a bathtub so he could begin a new life with his mistress.

"My father's facade has now crumbled," said Alexis Somers, who asked the judge to give MacNeill the maximum penalty. "My father is a monster. He has never shown remorse for any of his crimes. He must be held accountable for his actions."

Judge Derek Pullan gave the 58-year-old MacNeill the harshest term possible: at least 15 years and up to life on the murder charge, plus one to 15 years on an obstruction-of-justice charge. A third sentence in a separate sexual abuse case adds another one to 15 years.

Pullan said the sentences must run one after the other, not at the same time. The Utah parole board will decide later whether MacNeill can be released after 17 years or must serve a longer term.

The one-time doctor and lawyer with a family of eight did not address the court during the sentencing. He appeared gaunt, with close-cropped gray hair and glasses.

Michele MacNeill initially was ruled to have died of natural causes, possibly heart disease, but her family hounded authorities until charges were filed five years after her death.

Her sister Linda Cluff said she imagines Michele MacNeill dying at her husband's hands and wonders whether she was afraid or cried for help.

"He thought nothing more of her than something to throw away and get rid of," said Cluff, who turned and faced Martin MacNeill during the hearing.

"I can look into his eyes and say, 'Martin, you haven't gotten away with this," she said.

The judge pointed to Martin MacNeill's careful planning, saying he'd orchestrated the killing so his 6-year-old daughter would find her mother dead.

"Mr. MacNeill, as you deprived Michele MacNeill of her life, the state of Utah exacts from you today the liberty you might have enjoyed in your remaining years," Pullan said.

The case shocked the Mormon community of Pleasant Grove, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Martin MacNeill has maintained his innocence. His attorney Randy Spencer argued at trial that Michele MacNeill had a heart attack and fell into the tub, and has said an appeal is likely. Spencer did not take questions from reporters Friday.

Martin MacNeill was medical director of the Utah State Development Center, a residential center for people with cognitive disorders. He had a law degree but wasn't known to practice.

Prosecutors conceded the largely circumstantial case wasn't an easy one. Prosecutor Chad Grunander said the trail had gone cold by the time he came onto the case in 2010, and the judge excluded some evidence of the contention roiling under the family's picture-perfect exterior.

"You have a doctor and lawyer, beautiful wife, beautiful children, well-educated, successful people, and this happens in the background," Grunander said. "It is shocking to some degree, certainly."

Last year's trial peeled back that facade with testimony from jailhouse snitches and Martin MacNeill's former mistress, Gypsy Willis.

Martin MacNeill hired her as a nanny within weeks of his wife's death. But his older daughters said they recognized the woman as his secret lover and the subject of arguments between their parents.

Prosecutors said Martin MacNeill insisted his 50-year-old wife get a face-lift and faked his own medical condition to throw off suspicion in the weeks before her death. They pointed to erratic behavior and what they called phony grief the day she died.

Another daughter, Rachel MacNeill, said Friday her father promised to destroy her and her sisters after their mother's death.

"True justice for my mother does not end with the conviction and sentencing of her murderer, but that's the way it begins," she said.

Prosecutors also introduced testimony from former cellmates of Martin MacNeill who said he confessed to his wife's death. Spencer said they lied and MacNeill should get a new trial, but the judge denied that motion late last month.