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PROVO — Four inmates who knew Martin MacNeill in federal prison are expected to tell jurors Tuesday that the former doctor used slurs when speaking of his wife and told them that police could never prove that her death was a murder.
According to prosecutors, the men are also expected to testify that they heard MacNeill say he was glad his wife, Michele, was dead.
The fourth week of the five-week trial resumes Tuesday morning. MacNeill, 57, is charged with murder, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, in his wife’s April 11, 2007, death.
The former California beauty queen, 50, was found dead and partially submerged in the bathtub of the couple’s Pleasant Grove home about one week after having plastic surgery. Prosecutors say MacNeill overdosed his wife on pain medication and other drugs before drowning her in the tub.
The death was not investigated as a homicide until 2008, after family members came forward with their suspicions that MacNeill had murdered his wife in order to be with his mistress.
During opening statements of the trial, deputy Utah County attorney Sam Pead told the jury of six men and five women that MacNeill told one inmate that he gave Michele the drugs “to get her to pass out and die” and had “held her under the water to help her out.”
All four of the inmates scheduled to testify are incarcerated in federal prisons in Texas. They knew MacNeill while he was serving a four-year term following his 2009 conviction on two counts of aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. The charges stem from MacNeill’s theft of identification documents belonging to his 16-year-old adopted daughter. He then used the papers to create a new, fake identity for his mistress, Gypsy Willis. She was also charged and served a federal prison sentence.
Also in 2009, MacNeill pleaded guilty to three state felonies, including insurance fraud and forgeries, for which he was sentenced to three years in jail. The term was served concurrently with the federal prison sentence, which ended in 2012.
Jurors won’t hear any of the details of MacNeill’s past state or federal criminal charges or about the prison time he’s served. Defense attorneys Randall Spencer and Susanne Gustin argued such information could prejudice the jury and could prohibit MacNeill from getting a fair trial on the murder charge. A judge agreed and barred the information from the current trial.
Still, prosecutors will call on four men, whom they contend help connect the dots in their case against MacNeill.
Being a snitch is a dangerous position to be in. Others know what they are about to be involved in. ... I think it's implied that they will face violence.
–Sam Pead, Deputy Utah County attorney
Out of concern for their safety, none of the four men set to testify will be identified by name — they’ll be identified by the word "inmate" and the numbers one through four. Judge Derek P. Pullan has also barred the news media from using video or still images of the men’s faces.
In court last week, Pead told Pullan the men had concerns for their safety because others inside the prison believed they were being taken to testify against MacNeill. None were threatened directly, Pead said, but some were told to “pack up” and to “say hi to Doc,” a nickname that was used for MacNeill in prison. One of the four also belongs to a prison gang, which possibly leaves him at an increased risk.
“Being a snitch is a dangerous position to be in,” Pead told the judge. “Others know what they are about to be involved in. ... I think it’s implied that they will face violence.”
All four inmates have asked to be moved to other prisons, Pead said. That decision rests with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and it was not clear last week whether the requests would be considered or honored.