PROVO — Martin MacNeill was at work or shuttling his daughter between home and school on the morning his wife was found dead in the bathtub and is not responsible for her alleged murder.
That’s the alibi defense attorneys will begin to mount on Thursday when MacNeill's murder trial begins in Provo’s 4th District Court.
The trial is the first in Utah to have a continuously recording video camera in the courtroom so that footage can be made available for media outlets, a court spokesman said.
Michele MacNeill, 50, was found dead by her youngest daughter on April 11, 2007. Her husband wasn’t charged with any crime until almost three years later, after the state medical examiner’s office reconsidered its initial finding and ruled the death “suspicious.”
MacNeill has pleaded not guilty to murder, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second degree felony. If he is convicted of the crimes by the jury of six men and five women, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. The jury was selected late Wednesday.
The alibi: MacNeill wasn't there
In court papers filed last month, defense attorney Randall Spencer contends that MacNeill arrived at work between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on April 11, leaving only briefly to take his daughters to school. The documents say MacNeill then returned to his job as the clinical director of the Utah State Developmental Center, where he stayed until picking up daughter Ada, then 6, at 11:30 a.m. to take her home for the day. It was Ada who first discovered her mother in the tub.
An expert for the prosecution believes Michele MacNeill died between 11:24 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., when MacNeill was elsewhere, Spencer said Wednesday following the jury selection.
"He wasn't there," Spencer said, noting that MacNeill's alibi is only one aspect of their case.
MacNeill’s whereabouts that day can be corroborated by at least three co-workers and phone records from the Utah State Developmental Center and a cellphone carrier, the defense documents state.
Utah County prosecutors dispute the alibi and claim in charging documents that there are “periods of time when (MacNeill’s) whereabouts are unknown,” and note that the travel time between the family home, the children’s school and MacNeill’s office is only about five minutes.
An employee at the developmental center also filed a complaint against MacNeill because he was acting "belligerent and nervous" that day, according to investigators. That employee said Martin was "very insistent" that she take a photograph of him "so that people would know that he was present," court documents state.
Details of the case
Prosecutors contend MacNeill used a dangerous cocktail of four painkillers — prescribed a week earlier after Michele had plastic surgery — to over-medicate his wife of nearly 30 years and render her incapable of walking or responding to threats to her safety.
Investigators believe MacNeill capitalized on the surgery to acquire the drugs and used his skills as a physician to make the death appear accidental. They believe MacNeill killed his wife so that he could start a new life with his longtime mistress, Gypsy Willis.
MacNeill voluntarily surrendered his medical license in 2009.
Prosecutors also contend MacNeill worked to conceal evidence by disturbing evidence at the scene by draining the tub and removing his wife’s pants. He’s also accused of lying to a 911 dispatcher about performing CPR and to a medical examiner about the position of Michele’s body when she was found. Investigators say MacNeill also asked his son’s girlfriend to toss out the medications his wife had been taking before her death.
“The defendants’ statement and actions compromised the investigation and deflected suspicions from him,” the charging documents state. “Moreover, (MacNeill’s) misrepresentations and staging of the scene created the appearance that Michele’s death was an accident.”
Prosecutors have a list of nearly 60 witnesses, including most of MacNeill’s daughters, who may be called in order to make their case, court records show. Willis will also testify.
On Wednesday they asked Judge Derek Pullan for permission to bring in a bathtub similar to the one in the MacNeill home and a mannequin that is similar in size to the victim for demonstrative purposes so that witnesses could better describe what they saw. Defense attorneys expressed concern over how its use might prejudice a jury.
Pullan said he wanted look at the tub with attorneys before making a decision, but also said its use could be inflammatory.
"Actually putting a body in the tub would cross a line I am uncomfortable with," he said.