Pleasant Grove doctor convicted of murdering wife found dead in prison

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UTAH STATE PRISON — Martin MacNeill, a prominent Pleasant Grove doctor convicted of murdering his wife to pursue a relationship with his mistress, was found dead in prison Sunday.

MacNeill, 60, was found unresponsive in an outdoor yard at the prison's Olympus Facility on Sunday morning, according to Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman Maria Peterson.

Correctional officers found MacNeill near a greenhouse and performed CPR while emergency crews responded. He was pronounced dead at the facility, Peterson said.

Unified police will investigate MacNeill's cause of death. Peterson said there were no obvious signs of foul play.

MacNeill had been serving a life prison sentence since 2014 after a jury found him guilty of murdering his wife, 50-year-old Michele MacNeill, seven years earlier. According to investigators, MacNeill pressured his wife into getting a facelift, then drugged her and drowned her in a bathtub in an attempt to make the death look accidental.

The woman's death was originally determined to be accidental, but as family members began to question MacNeill's actions after the death and unravel details about his life, they persistently pushed investigators to reopen the case. One investigator said his position as a doctor and an attorney caused few people to ever question him.

Michele MacNeill's sister, Linda Cluff, declined comment about MacNeill's demise in prison Sunday, saying that she, MacNeill's daughters and their family were not prepared to talk about the sudden death.

Attorney Randy Spencer, who represented MacNeill at trial, said Sunday that while MacNeill has long been characterized in a negative light, he was a good person who became his friend.

"Martin did a lot of good things in his life. Sadly, the good things are overshadowed by some of the things that aren't so good that he did," Spencer said.

Throughout his trial and in visits since then, MacNeill publicly and privately maintained he had nothing to do with his wife's death, Spencer said.

"After the jury convicted him in the homicide trial, he and I were talking in the holding cell outside the courtroom," Spencer recalled. "He looked at me and he said, 'You know Randy, life is really ironic. I've done a lot of bad things in my life …and it's ironic to me that I get convicted of something I did not do.'"

In a visit last week in prison, Spencer said MacNeill appeared to be in good spirits, had gained some weight, and seemed to be in a good place psychologically. However, he made a comment that Spencer had heard him make before.

"He told me when I visited him that living in prison is 'no life,' and that he doesn't wish to live like this. But he had told me that many times in the past. There was no indication when I spoke with him to indicate that this would happen," Spencer said.

He noted that MacNeill had attempted to take his own life on at least one other occasion while he has been incarcerated, leading him to wonder on Sunday.

"I feared that this day would come," Spencer said. "It hasn't been officially released, but I suspect that that is what has happened."

Michelle and Martin MacNeill. (Photo: Rachel MacNeill)
Michelle and Martin MacNeill. (Photo: Rachel MacNeill)

MacNeill began appealing the conviction just days after the jury handed down its verdict, arguing in the Utah Court of Appeals last fall that he had been convicted based on false testimony from a jailhouse informant. The appelate court announced on March 17 it was upholding MacNeill's conviction and denied him a new trial.

The first possible parole date for MacNeill had been set for August 2052, when he would have been 96 years old.

At the same time MacNeill was serving time for the murder conviction, he was ordered to complete a concurrent sentence of one to 15 years for sexually abusing a daughter in 2007, three months after her mother's death. Police said MacNeill twice fondled his sleeping daughter and said, "I thought you were your mother."

The story of the wealthy doctor, his beauty queen wife's tragic death and his mistress who moved in days later became a national true crime sensation.

Michele and Martin MacNeill eloped in February 1978, four months before MacNeill was to begin six-month jail sentence for forgery, theft, fraud. The couple had eight children, four of whom were adopted. Their life together was fraught with controversy in MacNeill's career.

Together with his mistress, Gypsy Willis, MacNeill faced additional allegations and convictions of fraud in the years after his wife's death.

MacNeill wasn't charged with murder in Michele MacNeill's death until August 2012, after years of speculation from some of his children, neighbors, police and other family members that he had been responsible for the bizarre death.

In 2010, KSL published an extensive report about the sweeping circumstantial evidence and mounting allegations against MacNeill.

The Department of Corrections has not said whether it appears MacNeill's death could have been intentional. However, MacNeill's life had been surrounded by suicides as well as the numerous statements he made about taking his own life.


One woman who admitted having an affair with MacNeill said he told her that he'd killed his brother, Roy MacNeill, who he said had repeatedly attempted suicide "for attention and had become an embarrassment," according to court documents.

While speaking at his wife's funeral, MacNeill told those at the church service about the deaths of his siblings, including one brother who took his own life two months before Michele MacNeill was murdered. A sister died in her early 20s after strangling herself, he said.

In the summer of 2008, one of MacNeill's daughters said she approached her father about her struggles with drugs and he offered a solution that they both kill themselves. The woman who had an affair with MacNeill also told investigators the same story, saying he considered the daughter a family "embarrassment" at the time.

MacNeill's only son, Damian, committed suicide in January 2010 by overdosing on prescription drugs.

His oldest daughter, Rachel, said she remembers her father threatening to commit suicide many times. She said in 2010 that she had since realized that around the time of each of those threats, her father was doing things he could have gotten in trouble for — whether by his wife or by the police.

One such incident occurred in 1994, about the same time he was accused of having sexual relations with one of his patients at the BYU Health Center. She said her father threatened suicide then and again after his wife caught him looking at pornography in 2005.

In December 2013 about a month after he was convicted of murdering his wife, MacNeill attempted suicide in his Utah County Jail cell by cutting himself with a disposable razor. Deputies at the time said he "was unhappy he was interrupted" and was uncooperative with treatment attempts.

Investigators believe MacNeill, the former Utah State Developmental Center clinical director, spent a lifetime getting away with lies and multiple crimes until he was finally convicted of murder, fraud and other charges. One investigator compared MacNeill's life to the movie "Catch Me If You Can," but said the movie "paled in comparison."


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