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Murder trial of Utah doctor could turn on bathtub

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Updated: October 18, 2013 10:37AM

PROVO, Utah — Prosecutors have brought a sleek, fiberglass bathtub into court to demonstrate how a former Utah doctor charged with murder in his wife’s death found her listless body.

Martin MacNeill is accused of killing his wife, Michele, after convincing her to get a face-lift, giving her a lethal combination of prescription drugs for recovery and then helping her into the bathtub.

The trial is resuming for a second day Friday with testimony from a dispatcher, police, paramedics and neighbors, and prosecutors said they’re showing the same model of bathtub the couple used at their home in 2007. Defense lawyers say they aren’t objecting to the demonstration.

Prosecutors say Martin MacNeill plotted his wife’s death to carry on an affair with his mistress, Gypsy Willis, who the doctor invited to his wife’s funeral and asked to marry him weeks later. They said he pressed the plastic surgeon for drugs his wife didn’t need and then gave her the fatal dose.

Medical examiners can’t determine exactly how the 50-year-old woman died. A doctor who examined her before the face-lift testified she was generally healthy.

Defense attorneys say it was from heart disease, not because of any actions of her husband, although they acknowledged during opening statements that he wasn’t the easiest defendant to identify with.

“Martin has made poor choices in his life. He had affairs during his marriage,” defense lawyer Susanne Gustin said in her opening statement.

“We may think he’s a total jerk and disgusting. And that’s natural. But decide this case on the facts rather than the emotion.”

MacNeill, 57, was charged in August 2012, nearly five years after his wife was found in the couple’s Pleasant Grove home. The case shocked the Mormon community of Provo, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, because the suspect was a doctor and had been a church leader. He was clinical director at the Utah State Hospital but has surrendered his medical license.

The drugs his wife was taking weren’t common for someone getting a face-lift, the surgeon, Dr. Scott Thomson, testified Thursday. He said he would not normally prescribe Valium or Oxycodone, among other painkillers and sleeping pills, for recovery, but did so “because Martin was a physician and he asked me for these things.”

Michele MacNeill required only antibiotics, and he advised her to use painkillers sparingly, Thomson said.

Von Welch, another doctor who examined Michele MacNeill before cosmetic surgery, said her husband was eager to “get things going.” Welch was surprised the couple rejected his advice to put off the surgery until she got her high blood pressure under control.

Michele MacNeill was depressed but was generally healthy, and Welch said he was shocked to hear about her death.

The MacNeills had eight children, and their oldest daughters have been outspoken in their belief that their father killed their mother. Rachel MacNeill and Alexis Somers have gone on national TV with their claims and sat in his court hearings holding up photographs of their mother. They insist his motive was the affair.

Prosecutor Sam Pead depicted a scene of bizarre behavior that began when MacNeill, called authorities to his house in April 2007, when he discovered his listless wife in a bathtub and called authorities to his house in April 2007.

“’Why did she have the surgery?’” Martin MacNeill yelled in front of police and paramedics, according to Pead. “’Why did she take all of those medications? I told her not to do it. I’m a doctor. She’s dead. I’ve been a bishop. I pay tithing, and this is the way you repay me?’”

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