After an investigation that spanned the country and even went as far as Ukraine, Utah County prosecutors charged Martin MacNeill, a noted local physician, in the murder of his wife, Michele. MacNeill allegedly killed his wife via an overdose of prescription medications following a facelift. In the days and weeks after her death, MacNeill shocked his adult children by introducing his younger mistress as the new nanny and sending one of the couple’s adopted daughters back to Ukraine. The adult children, along with their mother’s sister, began their own investigation into their mother’s death, uncovering what they call MacNeill’s “web of lies” that spanned his entire life.
MacNeill is charged with first-degree felony murder and second-degree obstruction of justice. He is being held in lieu of a $1 million cash-only bond.
Felony murder is a slightly different charge from what we normally think of as murder. Felony murder is a loss of life that happens in the course of committing another felony. The classic example of felony murder is the bank robber whose gun misfires during the robbery, and someone is shot and killed. The robber may not have meant to kill, but he was engaged in a fundamentally dangerous felony where the loss of life was a possibility.
It’s the same analysis here. Since prosecutors may have a hard time proving causation – that MacNeill affirmatively overdosed his wife – they instead will try to prove that he was committing another felony, namely, obstruction of justice, and she died as a casualty of his crime.
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As he entered the courtroom for his arraignment, Dr. Martin MacNeill walked past his daughters, who were clutching photographs of his alleged victim – their mother.
MacNeill was charged with murder and obstruction of justice for the murder of his wife, Michele. He might never have been arrested in this bizarre case but for his daughters Alexis and Rachel, who hired their own investigator to examine the case after local authorities declared their mother died of natural causes while recovering from a facelift.
A few days before she was found dead, Michele MacNeill made the ominous comment to her daughter Alexis, “If anything happens to me, make sure it wasn’t your dad.” When the youngest child, six-year-old Ada, found their mother dead, the older daughters knew they needed to figure out if their father was involved.
For five years, the daughters asked anyone who would listen to investigate their father for their mother’s 2007 death. For five years, they fought to keep their mother’s death at the forefront of police and media investigations. After a long investigation, spanning the country, Utah County authorities believed MacNeill murdered his wife with an overdose of medication to end his marriage without the burden of divorce, to cover up an affair he was having with a woman named Gypsy Willis.
The 56-year-old MacNeill is a prominent doctor and lawyer from Pleasant Grove, Utah, a suburb of Provo. The MacNeills were known in their community as a good-looking, compassionate, loving Mormon couple whose seemingly boundless goodwill led them to adopt four little girls from Ukraine after their natural children were grown. Michele modeled professionally before she met her husband, then she became the ultimate stay at home mother and homemaker. MacNeill worked as the clinical director of the Utah State Developmental Center.
But as Alexis and Rachel began looking into their mother’s death, they realized that the fairytale marriage and happily ever after they had taken for granted was always a lie.
Shortly before Michele passed away, Alexis was looking through her father’s cell phone and found records of calls to someone named “Gypsy” at all hours of the night. At Michele’s funeral, MacNeill introduced 35-year-old Gypsy Willis to his adult daughters, explaining that she was going to be the new live-in nanny for the younger daughters. Alexis and Rachel suspected an affair, and aided by their aunt, Linda Cluff, they began lobbying the police for an investigation.
When the police were reluctant to help the family investigate an apparently accidental death, Alexis, Rachel and their aunt began to unravel what they called MacNeill’s “web of lies” themselves. They found out that Gypsy was only the latest in a long line of extramarital affairs. They discovered that their father’s school records were falsified and that he had no business practicing medicine or law. They even discovered allegations that he may have killed other people. An ex-girlfriend of MacNeill’s said that he previously confessed to killing his brother, to trying to kill his mother, and to several mercy-killings at the hospital where he worked.
As Michele’s family delved deeper into MacNeill’s history, they discovered that MacNeill had been the force guiding the still-beautiful Michele to pursue “facial reconstruction surgery.” He also prescribed her the combination of drugs that would ultimately turn lethal: Lortrab, Ambien, Valium, Phenergan and Percocet. Alexis visited her mother during her recovery and found her “listless and unresponsive,” and she argued with MacNeill about overmedicating Michele. Prosecutors believe MacNeill was planning Michele’s death for months.
Shortly after Michele’s death, MacNeill sent Giselle, one of his adopted daughters, back to Ukraine, abandoning her there for nearly a year. While she was gone, Gypsy assumed Giselle’s identity to cover up her debt history. When the older MacNeill girls realized what was happening, they rescued Giselle from Ukraine. Alexis eventually won custody of all of Michele’s adopted children, knowing her mother would want the family to stay together.
Further investigation revealed that Gypsy was just as suspicious. Her roommate said Gypsy talked about ways to kill Michele. MacNeill made Gypsy his financial beneficiary after Michele’s death. Gypsy also assumed the identity of one of the MacNeill daughters for her own financial benefit.
While the investigation into Michele’s murder was taking place, Gypsy and MacNeill were convicted for fraud-related charges including identity theft and forgery. MacNeill was released from his three-year sentence on July 6, 2012 and was re-arrested for Michele’s murder five weeks later.
The three week trial included testimony from MacNeill’s daughters, jailhouse informants, medical examiners, former mistresses, and the highlight of Gypsy Willis herself, who prosecutors alleged was the motive for the murder plot. After 11 hours of deliberations, ending shortly after 1 a.m. on November 9, 2013, a jury convicted MacNeill of the murder of his wife Michele.
He faces 15 years to life for first-degree murder when he is sentenced January 7. He also was found guilty of obstruction of justice, which could add one to 15 years.
MacNeill showed little emotion when the verdict was read. He hugged his lawyer and said, “It’s OK.” Deputies then led him back to Utah County jail.
Update: The drugs found in the deadly cocktail of prescription medication are identified as Valium, Phenergan (anti-nausea or cough-suppressant) , Ambien (sleep medication), Oxycodone (powerful opiate). All are sedatives.
Martin MacNeill – The defendant in this case, accused of murdering his wife, Michele MacNeill. Recently released from federal prison for fraud, he has now been re-arrested for the murder of his wife.
Michele MacNeill – The former model and mother of eight children, including four adopted daughters from Ukraine. She was well-respected in her community and her church and dearly loved.
Gypsy Willis – Gypsy Jyll Willis, aka Jillian Giselle MacNeill and Jyll Wilson, is MacNeill’s mistress, with whom he was having an affair at the time of his wife’s death. After she schemed with MacNeill to use his daughter’s identity, she was convicted of identity-theft related fraud and is currently in prison. According to Linda Cluff’s blog, Gypsy also posed as MacNeill’s wife, using Michele MacNeill’s funeral date as their wedding date.
Alexis Somers – Alexis is one of Martin and Michele MacNeill’s daughters, and along with her sister Rachel, she was a leader in the investigation into her mother’s death. She has worked tirelessly and passionately to uncover the truth and put her father away. She also fought and won custody of her three youngest sisters, after their father threatened to give them away.
Rachel MacNeill – The eldest of Martin and Michele MacNeill’s biological daughters, 33, and her sister Alexis, have led the charge to convict their father of killing their mother. Following the preliminary hearing where a judge ruled that Martin MacNeill would stand trial for murder, she wrote “My father, Martin MacNeill, is going to stand trial for the murder of our beloved mother, Michele MacNeill. At last he will be brought before a jury, and held accountable for his actions.” She testified at the preliminary hearing that her father brought her to temple only days after her mother passed away in order to pray for a nanny and introduced her to Gypsy Willis: “That’s the first time I realized something was wrong…The whole thing had been scripted.” Rachel created the memorial site michelemacneill.com in honor of her mother.
Linda Cluff – Michele MacNeill’s sister, who along with her nieces Alexis and Rachel initiated the investigation into Martin MacNeill and currently runs the website and blog martinmacneill.info, dedicated to outing MacNeill and Willis.
Giselle – One of the MacNeill’s adopted daughters, whom MacNeill sent back to Ukraine while he and Gypsy tried to abscond with her identity.
Ada – The MacNeills’ youngest adopted daughter, who found Michele dead from a drug overdose.
Jeff Robinson – The Utah County investigator who compared Martin MacNeill’s life to the movie “Catch Me If You Can.” He believes MacNeill has spent a lifetime getting away with crime.
Randall Spencer – MacNeill’s attorney, who has described his client as an “odd man,” but maintains his client’s innocence. “He truly loved his wife,” Spencer has stated.
Suzanne Gustin – MacNeill’s attorney, co-counsel with Randall Spencer. Gustin gave the opening statement for the defense October 17, during which she said the jury may believe her client is a “total jerk” and “disgusting” for cheating on his wife and inviting his mistress to her funeral, but that does not mean he’s a killer. She asked the jury not to let “emotion cloud [their] judgment” and to evaluate the facts of the case.
Judge Derek Pullan – The 4th District Court Judge presiding over the trial.
Judge Samuel D. McVey – The 4th District Court judge that presided over the preliminary hearing.
Dr. Scott Thompson – Michele MacNeill’s plastic surgeon that performed the facelift procedure eight days before Michele was found dead in her bathtub. Dr. Thompson testified October 17, on the first day of trial, that he prescribed higher than normal levels of painkiller Percocet and anxiety medication Valium for Michele at her husband’s request because Martin MacNeill was a fellow physician, was concerned about his wife’s pain tolerance, and “wanted to be prepared”. In total Dr. Thompson prescribed Michele seven medications including two pain medications, a sleeping pill, anti-nausea medication, valium and a steroid for swelling and an antibiotic.
Dr. Von Welsch – Utah physician that examined Michele MacNeill in the weeks prior to her death in order to clear her physically for cosmetic surgery. Dr. Welsch testified October 17, on the first day of trial, that Michele showed no signs of heart disease during a pre-operative exam on March 29, 2007, but she did have high blood pressure and told him she was depressed and stressed. He recommended that Michele postpone the procedure until she could lower her blood pressure, and he prescribed her Zoloft. According to Dr. Welsch Martin MacNeill’s disagreement with his opinion was “animated”. The procedure was performed as scheduled on April 3, 2007. Dr. Welsch said he was “shocked” to learn Michele had died “because at the time [he] examined her, she was healthy.” When asked his opinion of Martin MacNeill as a doctor, he testified that he believed the defendant had a tendency to overprescribe medication for his patients.Martin MacNeill: The defendant in this case, accused of murdering his wife, Michele MacNeill. Recently released from federal prison for fraud, he has now been re-arrested for the murder of his wife.
Real names are not used in open court in order to protect the identities of the jailhouse informants. The witnesses are identified by an inmate number provided only for this trial.
Inmate #1 – Jailhouse informant who testified November 6 as a State’s witness. He is a 38-year-old man sentenced to incarceration in federal prison beginning in 2007, with his sentence ending in 201, for charges of possession of a substance with a cocaine base and the intent to distribute as well as possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. The informant testified that he knew MacNeill for approximately six months while they were incarcerated together and placed in the same computer class. According to his testimony he spoke to MacNeill in class and also occasionally outside of class in the lunch area or outside.
Key points in his testimony involve various conversations he allegedly had with MacNeill about his wife after seeing (but not hearing) a few moments of a Nancy Grace segment on TV about the MacNeill murder trial. The first conversation took place at breakfast the morning after he initially watched the Nancy Grace special. The informant testified that MacNeill told him they were just playing the special because his “girlfriend” (Gypsy) was about to be released from custody. A few weeks later Inmate #1 saw another TV special and asked MacNeill again if he saw it, to which MacNeill responded “They can’t prove anything, so I don’t know why they keep running it on TV.” Again, a few weeks later while on the playground, the informant testified he had another conversation with MacNeill, during which “Doc” (the prison nickname for MacNeill) opened up, telling him he gave his wife some oxy and some sleeping pills. He said MacNeill told him that he “helped [Michele MacNeill] out” by assisting his wife into the bathtub and holding her head under the water. The informant further testified as to motive, telling the court that MacNeill said his wife “was in the way” and wanted both the house and the kids.
Inmate #2 – Jailhouse informant who testified November 5 as a State’s witness. According to his testimony he was convicted of one felony for conspiracy involving cocaine and marijuana. He was Martin MacNeill’s cell-mate for approximately two years. Key points of his testimony include MacNeill’s physical health, in particular that he exercised regularly but also had a limp on occasion although he did not know the cause. He testified that MacNeill told him he had a wife who was alive, and he saw that she sent him letters (referring to Gypsy). After learning that MacNeill was accused of killing his wife, he asked him if it was true, and MacNeill allegedly told him that “they can’t prove it.” There was no cross-examination.
Inmate #3 – Jailhouse informant who testified November 5 as a State’s witness. He was imprisoned for one felony relating to drugs, was currently 14-years into a 27-year sentence, and testified that he was incarcerated with Dr. Martin MacNeill. Key points of his testimony include MacNeill’s physical health, in particular that he exercised regularly including running four-five miles per day, lifting weights, running sprints, and that “Doc” (as MacNeill was called by other inmates) appeared strong. Inmate further testified that he had seen television coverage of the Martin MacNeill case and approached a law enforcement contact to discuss his conversations with “Doc”. These discussions included asking MacNeill if he killed his wife, to which MacNeill purportedly responded only that police did not have any evidence. Defense attorneys impeached the witness on cross-examination by eliciting testimony that Inmate #3 had previously fabricated an elaborate story about an inmate named “Thompson” in 2002. In an effort to receive a transfer out of the cell block, Inmate #3 said that the knicked himself with a razor and then accused inmate “Thompson” of stabbing him while convincing other inmates to corroborate his story. He testified that he has not received any special treatment or promises for a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony from State or Federal prosecutors.
Inmate #4 – Jailhouse informant who testified November 5 as a State’s witness. According to his testimony he was convicted of multiple felony drug offenses. Key points of his testimony include MacNeill’s physical health, in particular that MacNeill was in good shape and ran wind sprints every day. When asked about his wife, MacNeill reportedly told him that his wife was in prison (referring to Gypsy). After learning that MacNeill was accused of killing his wife, inmate #4 asked MacNeill how his wife died, and MacNeill responded: “Bitch drowned.” On cross-examination Inmate #4 admitted that MacNeill never told him that he killed his wife. Law enforcement sought out his testimony, not the other way around. He did not receive special treatment or promises for a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony. When asked if he received anything for testifying he responded: “A death sentence for telling on him.” He also testified that he has never had any conflict with MacNeill, “I really hope he didn’t do it to be honest.”
Dr. Martin MacNeill Calls 911 (Audio)
Is Martin MacNeill A Murderer?
Pre-Trial Commentary – Interestingly, the Utah county medical examiner never determined homicide as the cause of Michele MacNeill’s death. After the 2007 autopsy, the cause of death was “natural,” the cause of chronic hypertension and myocarditis. In 2010, the Utah County Chief Medical Examiner evaluated Michele’s body and changed the cause of death to “undetermined,” possibly caused by the combined effects of chronic heart disease and drug toxicity. Other experts have weighed in, believing that Michele was drugged with a lethal dose of medication. But for a jury, the county medical examiner’s report will hold some real weight, and there’s a big difference between “undetermined,” and “homicide.”
One thing county prosecutors hope to prove is that MacNeill interfered with the first medical examination by providing false information. However, that still does not alter the second medical examiner’s inconclusive findings. If Michele had a heart condition, she would have been at risk for sudden death no matter what drugs she was taking – although the particular cocktail alleged certainly could not have helped.
Causation is a huge component of a murder case. Even though MacNeill appears to have a motive – getting out of the marriage to be with Gypsy – and even though he’s done a lot of strange and criminal things in his life, it might be hard to explicitly link him to Michele’s cause of death. With what we know about the case now, much of that evidence is purely circumstantial.
Oct. 29, 2013 – As a trial attorney myself, I believe that the prosecutor blew a golden opportunity to prove motive. If Dr. Martin MacNeill murdered his wife, Gypsy Willis was his reason for doing so. The prosecution failed to properly question her even after the Judge ruled that she could be treated as a hostile witness. She was never made to squirm. She was never asked if she was remorseful about carrying on an affair with a married man. She was never asked if moving into the house he shared with his wife weeks after her death was wrong. She was never asked to explain why she would carrying on a text conversation with Dr. MacNeill during his wife’s funeral and how inappropriate that was. The prosecution should have more thoroughly walked her through the number of phone calls and text messages they exchanged. The prosecution should have hammered home the amount of lies they told in an effort to conceal their relationship. She was never asked about how deep her love was/is for him and that only his incarceration has kept them apart. Instead, the jury was left with the impression that this was a casual affair and that Dr. MacNeill never intended to leave his wife for Gypsy. In sum, the prosecution completely blew a golden opportunity to prove motive. An opportunity that may cost them the case.
Alison Triessl, founder of Wild About Trial