Utah doctor gets up to life in wife's murder

Lindsay Whitehurst
Associated Press

Provo, Utah — A Utah doctor found guilty of killing his wife in a trial that became a national true-crime cable TV obsession will serve 17 years to life in prison, a state judge decided Friday.

The long-awaited sentence comes seven years after prosecutors say Martin MacNeill knocked out his wife with drugs prescribed following cosmetic surgery and left her to die in a bathtub so he could begin a new life with his mistress.

MacNeill, 58, was sentenced to at least 15 years and up to life in prison on a murder charge, plus one to 15 years on an obstruction of justice charge. A third sentence in a separate sexual abuse case will add another one to 15 years.

Judge Derek Pullan ruled Friday the sentences will run one after the other. The Utah parole board will decide later whether MacNeill can be released after 17 years or must serve a longer term.

The one-time doctor and lawyer with a family of eight remained silent during sentencing.

Michele MacNeill initially was ruled to have died of natural causes, possibly heart disease, but her family hounded authorities until charges were filed five years after her death.

The case against Martin MacNeill shocked the Mormon community of Pleasant Grove, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Martin MacNeill has maintained his innocence. His attorney argued at trial that Michele MacNeill had a heart attack and fell into the tub, and has said an appeal is likely.

Prosecutors conceded the largely circumstantial case wasn't an easy one. Prosecutor Chad Grunander said the trail had gone cold by the time he came onto the case in 2010, and the judge excluded some evidence of the contention roiling under the family's picture-perfect exterior.

"You have a doctor and lawyer, beautiful wife, beautiful children, well-educated, successful people, and this happens in the background. It is shocking to some degree, certainly," Grunander said.

Last year's three-week trial peeled back that facade with testimony from jailhouse snitches and Martin MacNeill's former mistress, Gypsy Willis.

Martin MacNeill introduced her as a nanny within weeks of his wife's death, but his older daughters said they quickly recognized the woman as his secret lover and the subject of arguments between their parents.

Prosecutors said Martin MacNeill insisted his 50-year-old wife to get a face-lift and faked his own medical condition to throw off suspicion in the weeks before his wife's death. They pointed to erratic behavior and what they called phony grief the day she died.

Prosecutors also introduced testimony from former MacNeill cellmates who said he confessed to his wife's death. Spencer said the jailhouse snitches lied and MacNeill should get a new trial, but the judge denied that motion late last month.