PROVO — The woman police say was the motive for a murder plot is expected back on the stand Tuesday when the trial of a former physician accused of his wife’s death resumes.
On Friday, Gypsy Willis told a 4th District Court jury her sexual relationship with Martin MacNeill began in early 2006 and remained mostly a casual relationship until early the next year.
The 37-year-old nursing student, who met MacNeill online, said he later put her up in an apartment, gave her a debit card to use and helped pay for her school expenses.
Michele MacNeill, 50, was found unconscious and submerged in water in a bathtub of her Pleasant Grove home on April 11, 2007. The Utah County Attorney’s Office began an investigation into the death in 2008 and charged her husband with her murder five years later.
A former physician and attorney, Martin MacNeill, 57, has pleaded not guilty to the crimes but could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted. The trial will enter its third week Tuesday and is expected to last until mid-November.
Prosecutors contend Martin MacNeill gave his wife a powerful cocktail of painkillers to render her unable to defend herself, then drowned her in the tub and used his skills as a physician to make it look like an accident. The drugs were prescribed to Michele MacNeill following plastic surgery a week earlier.
Prosecutors allege Martin MacNeill killed his wife so he could start a new life with Willis, with whom he exchanged nearly two dozen text messages on the day of Michele MacNeill’s funeral, four of which were sent about the same time of the service.
Willis is testifying against her former lover as part of plea deal with Utah County prosecutors that kept her out of jail despite convictions on state felony charges for identity theft. She was accused of stealing the identity of Martin MacNeill’s adopted teen daughter, a crime which also resulted in federal criminal convictions for both Willis and Martin MacNeill.
An initial autopsy by the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office found that Michele MacNeill died of natural causes related to heart disease. An updated report by the same office in 2010 concurred but called the manner of her death suspicious and undetermined. A third examiner, who is a witness for prosecutors, found that the former California beauty queen drowned.
None of the examiners concluded the death was a homicide. Utah County authorities began investigating the death in 2008, but criminal charges in the case were not filed until 2012.
In testimony last week, a clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist from Idaho said Michele MacNeill did not have a lethal combination of drugs in her system when she died.
Gary Dawson analyzed the woman's autopsy, toxicology report and a blood sample. The mix of the chemicals would not have killed the mother of eight but would have seriously impaired her ability to respond to her surroundings or a threat to her safety, he said.
On cross-examination, Dawson said he told prosecutors that “getting around” Michele MacNeill’s autopsy findings would be an uphill battle and that he could see no “smoking gun” in her medical reports.