Is a respected doctor capable of murdering his wife? Dateline NBC reviews the case of Martin MacNeill who was found guilty of killing his wife, Michele, on April 2007 in their home in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Behind Martin’s downfall are the relentless efforts of his daughters Alexis and Rachel who, along with their aunt Linda (Michele’s sister), went to great lengths in getting the attention of investigators and prosecutors on their conviction: their father committed homicide.
Martin and Michele (recap photo taken in their younger years) were the perfect couple raising 8 children (4 biological, 4 adopted); Martin was a doctor, lawyer and a leader in his Mormon church while Michele was a former beauty queen who was well-loved and clearly doted on her children.
By the time Martin turned 50, he took the vanity route and even influenced Michele to have a facelift. Michelle did so but eight days after the surgery, she was found dead in her bath tub. Martin blamed Michele for taking too much medication, the Medical Examiner deemed heart disease to be the cause of death (natural for Michele’s age) and there was no proof of foul play. Michele did not smoke or drink but as she carried more weight, it was natural to accept that she may indeed have died from a heart ailment. For a while, Martin was the innocent guy: Alexis recalls Michele telling her on their last phone conversation that Martin was extremely caring following her face lift procedure.
Alexis and Rachel looked up to their father; Alexis was even inspired to take up medicine because of her father. Naturally, Alexis wanted to know the drugs prescribed to Michele and made three dreadful discoveries: one, that Martin told the surgeon what drugs to prescribe; two, that Martin ordered his son Damian and his girlfriend to flush out all the drugs as they reminded him of the tragedy; and three, that Martin’s daughter, Ada, found Michele lying in the bath tub with her face up and fully clothed in her jogging suit. This last piece of information contradicted Martin’s claim of having found Michele slumped over the tub. The girls were also appalled at Martin’s behavior for demanding an immediate funeral and talking more about himself than his wife during the service.
The daughters’ suspicions were heightened after Martin hired Gypsy Jillian Willis to be their younger siblings’ nanny. Alexis realized that this name belonged to a woman she uncovered to have had been carrying out an affair with Martin. Michele confronted Martin but he denied the affair; the following day, he told Michele that she needed a face lift.
Gypsy moved in with the MacNeills a couple of weeks after what appeared to be their chance encounter in the Mormon temple, one which Rachel witnessed.Vexed at this move, Rachel and Alexis launched a detailed background investigation on Martin where they unearthed more of his past affairs. The siblings alerted the lawyers in the Utah Count Attorney’s Office and convinced them to dig deeper into Martin’s past. As it turns out, Martin faked his college transcript to get into medical school and was convicted of forging checks. The problem is, hard evidence pointing to murder was still unavailable.
Martin and Gypsy carried out their affair and in January 2009, both were arrested for fraud after the couple forged Gypsy’s identity. The plan entailed marooning adopted daughter Giselle in Ukraine and creating Gypsy’s new identity based on Giselle’s social security number. Gypsy became Gillian MacNeill and the two lived as a married couple; worse, they used Michele’s funeral date as their marriage date. The new identity successfully wiped out Gypsy’s debt. Following their arrest and imprisonment, Gypsy revealed that her chance meeting with Martin at the Mormon temple was staged.
Through it all, Rachel and Alexis’ relationship with their brother Damian became strained as the latter sided with their father. In 2010, Damian committed suicide. The murder investigation continued and the county lawyers were able to convince the new Medical Examiner to change Michele’s cause of death from natural causes to undetermined. One evidence that would eventually convince prosecutors for a case of murder against Martin also surfaced: reports showed that Michele threw up water when first responders performed CPR on her (proving that Martin didn’t do CPR right as he claimed in his 911 call).
Martin was charged with murder after his release from prison in December 2012 (for fraud). Gypsy testified against him; despite her efforts to downplay their relationship, the prosecution was able to show love letters that served as a motive for the crime. Another woman whom Martin had an affair with (before Gypsy came along) also testified on conversations with Martin that revolved around using a drug on a person that will be undetected in the body but is capable of making one’s death appear to be of a cardiovascular disorder.
For its part, the defense team worked hard to prove Martin’s innocence by disputing Alexis’ testimony, eliciting a declaration from the coroner that the decision to change the cause of death was not exactly based on science and other testimonies corroborating Martin’s presence elsewhere when Michele died. The defense rested their case by claiming that Martin may have cheated on his wife but he was never a murderer.
It took 11 hours for the jury to deliberate on their decision. Although unnerving to both the prosecution and defense teams, justice eventually went to Martin’s children. His lawyer also reveals Martin’s quite remarkable comment being found guilty in court: that he respected what his daughters did.
That’s our recap of Dateline NBC today, 11/13/13. We’ll have another recap on Friday. Until then, please check our Dateline NBC archive HERE.
Image Credit: Dateline NBC