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Defense rests in MacNeill murder trial

  • Utah doctor Martin MacNeill is accused of drugging and drowning his wife in 2007 because of an affair
  • He pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison if convicted
  • Both the prosecution and defense attorneys rested their cases Thursday
Defense rests in MacNeill murder trial

Prosecutors and defense attorneys rested their cases Thursday in the trial of a former Utah doctor accused of using his medical know-how to kill his wife.

The prosecution wrapped its case by recalling Martin MacNeill's former mistress, Gypsy Willis, to the stand. It's to continue his alleged affair with Willis that prosecutors say MacNeill drugged then drowned his wife, Michele, in a bathtub in their family’s home on April 11, 2007.

Martin MacNeill is on trial in Provo, Utah, and has pleaded not guilty to murder and obstruction of justice charges in his wife's death. MacNeill's defense attorneys say Michele MacNeill -- who was recovering from a face-lift at the time and found with a powerful cocktail of prescription drugs in her system -- died of natural causes.

While on the stand Thursday, Willis answered questions regarding when her relationship with Martin MacNeill ended. She said she had not “communicated” with Martin in four and half years, but appeared to contradict herself when she also said she ceased communicating with MacNeill after she was released from prison for fraud charges in February 2011. 

Prosecutors showed the jury a letter Willis wrote to MacNeill on January 1, 2010, which stated, “I know I could better abandon friends, be parted with you I cannot bear.”

Willis signed the letter “Your girl."

Prosecutors ended their examination of Willis by asking her if she felt protective of MacNeill, to which she replied, “No.”

Defense attorneys wrapped their brief case after calling four witnesses to the stand Thursday. In comparison, the prosecution had called 46 witnesses over 13 days of testimony.

Two of the defense witnesses seemed to support MacNeill’s alibi that he couldn’t have killed his wife because he was at his place of employment -- the Utah State Developmental Center -- when she died.

Defense attorneys began their case by calling a nurse practitioner who worked with MacNeill the day his wife died. Jim Van Zant testified that he encountered MacNeill as the doctor was leaving work to go pick up his youngest daughter, Ada MacNeill, from kindergarten in the late morning hours of April 11. Van Zant said MacNeill told him that he was going to pick up his daughter from school that day. He also said nothing seemed unusual about MacNeill. According to Van Zant, MacNeill called the nurse practitioner later in the day to tell him that Michele MacNeill was having an emergency.

Next, the defense called Linda Strong, Ada MacNeill’s kindergarten teacher, to the stand. Strong testified that she saw Martin MacNeill pick up his child at the school around 11:30 a.m. or 11:35 a.m. the day of Michele MacNeill's death.

The defense then called Tammy Black, a probation officer, to the stand in an attempt to discredit one of Martin MacNeill's fellow inmates who testified against him during the trial, but her testimony abruptly ended when the judge upheld the prosecution’s objection that Black had limited contact with the witness.

Wrapping up its case, the defense called Brett Besser, an ergonomics expert, to testify about why he believes MacNeill had trouble removing his wife’s lifeless 180-pound body from the bathtub. Prosecutors have suggested that MacNeill was dishonest in describing his alleged inability to remove his wife's body from the bathtub where she died before rescuers arrived.

Besser said his calculations indicate that only 7% of the male population MacNeill's age and size could have lifted his wife safely out of the tub. Prosecutor Sam Pead suggested that Besser’s expertise provides better analysis in the context of workplace safety issues -- not protocol in emergency situations.

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Friday at 10:30 a.m. ET. A jury of eight will ultimately decide Martin MacNeill's fate. The panel chosen for the case is composed of six men and five women, with three of them acting as alternates. MacNeill faces life in prison if convicted.

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