I’m willing to negotiate (a plea agreement) now. If it’s a choice between dismissal and going forward, I’m ready to go forward and I think Alexis is too. —David Sturgill, prosecutor
PROVO — A former Pleasant Grove doctor convicted of murdering his wife by drugging her and drowning her in a bathtub will appeal the decision handed down by jurors last weekend, his attorney said.
But before that happens, Martin MacNeill has other legal battles to fight. He is scheduled to return to a Provo court on Monday to answer other criminal charges.
“There will be an appeal, but I’m not going to do it,” defense attorney Randall Spencer told the Deseret News, adding that it’s not common or “prudent” for the attorney who handled the original case to also handle an appeal.
MacNeill, 57, does not yet have another attorney, and he doesn't have any money to pay fees, so “it’ll have to be somebody that does it pro bono or the public defenders,” Spencer said.
Prosecutors charged MacNeill with his wife’s death in 2012, five years after 50-year-old Michele MacNeill was found unconscious in the tub by her then 6-year-old daughter.
Just after 1 a.m. Saturday, a jury of five men and three women convicted MacNeill of murder and obstruction of justice, agreeing with prosecutors who said he overdosed his wife on painkillers and sleeping pills before holding her head under the water.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 7, 2014. MacNeill, the former clinical director of the Utah State Developmental Center, faces a possible prison term of 15 years to life on the murder charge and a term of one to 15 years for obstruction of justice.
Prosecutor Chad Grunander said such appeals are not uncommon.
“I think in almost any murder conviction case that goes to a jury, there’s going to be an appeal,” the deputy county attorney said. “I think we have a very strong record for appeal purposes.”
But sentencing and a pending appeal aren’t the only court appearances in MacNeill’s future. On Monday he’ll be back for a hearing in a separate sexual abuse case.
MacNeill's daughter Alexis Somers — the state’s star witness in the murder trial — has accused him of sexually abusing her in the months following her mother’s death. The Deseret News does not typically name victims in sexual abuse cases, but Somers has previously spoken to reporters about the case.
MacNeill is charged with forcible sex abuse, a second-degree felony, and tampering with a witness, a third-degree felony. The case was initially dismissed and then refiled the same year about the same time MacNeill was charged with identity theft in federal court. That case resulted in a conviction and a four-year prison sentence.
Spencer also represents MacNeill in the sex abuse case. Judge Samuel McVey will hear oral arguments on a motion to continue Monday. A two-day jury trial is currently scheduled to begin Dec. 3.
“I just can’t do that trial in December. I’m emotionally and physically exhausted. I need some time to recuperate,” Spencer said Wednesday. “So the judge will hear my motion to continue and we’ll plan from there.”
Prosecutors intend to move forward with the case despite the murder conviction, said David Sturgill, the prosecutor in the sex abuse case.
“I’m willing to negotiate (a plea agreement) now,” said Sturgill, adding that MacNeill had not been willing to make a deal in the past. “If it’s a choice between dismissal and going forward, I’m ready to go forward, and I think Alexis is, too.”
Any decision about a plea agreement would be up to MacNeill, Spencer said.
In September of 2007, Somers filed a police report claiming there were two incidents of abuse in the three months following her mother’s death. In late May, she was asleep in her parents' bed when she woke to find her father fondling her and kissing her hand, charging documents state. He was supposed to have been sleeping on a couch.
Jumping from bed, Somers asked MacNeill what he was doing. “I’m sorry, I thought you were your mother,” he replied, according to the charges.
A similar incident allegedly occurred two months later during a family trip to California. Somers told police her father later apologized, but she feared her young sisters may not be safe in the home and sought legal custody of the four adopted girls.
During the custody fight, Somers recorded her telephone calls with MacNeill. In one exchange, MacNeill said he would let Somers have the girls if she agreed to sign a notarized statement denying that he had ever touched her inappropriately, court documents state. Somers refused, and in the ensuing argument MacNeill said he “was asleep when I did that,” the charges state.
In a police interview, MacNeill refused to answer questions, but upon hearing the allegations, he uttered: “A person can not be held accountable for their actions while they are asleep,” court papers say.
According to a separate police report, MacNeill told his daughters that “even though his wife is dead, he is still a sexual person and has desires that need to be met."