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MacNeill Trial Day 1: Michele was heavily-medicated, no evidence of heart disease - CourtJunkie

MacNeill Trial Day 1: Michele was heavily-medicated, no evidence of heart disease

October 17, 2013

Opening statements got underway today in the highly-anticipated Martin MacNeill trial. Below are some highlights of their talking points if you missed it.

Opening Statements: Prosecution

Martin MacNeill - Prosecution Opening Arguments

  • Martin and Michele had many talks about Michele’s facelift surgery. Michele wanted to postpone it after finding out that her blood pressure was a little high, but Martin insisted that she go forward with it as scheduled.
  • Martin accompanied Michele to all of the pre-surgical meetings. He spoke with her doctor about which medications he wanted her on, and the doctor prescribed them, believing that since Martin was also a doctor, he would know which meds to give at which times.
  • On the 911 call, Martin tells the operator that he is performing CPR, yet had no blood or mucus from Michele on him.
  • When the EMTs arrived, they began to perform CPR and as a result, Michele started coughing up liquid that got all over the paramedic’s clothing.
  • While paramedics were working on reviving Michele, Martin was screaming and yelling and was so disruptive that the fire chief had to remove him from the room
  • Martin kept telling the paramedics that he had been against the facelist surgery and had been worried that she was taking too much medication.
  • After Michele was declared dead, and Martin returned home, his son and his girlfriend came over to the house. He took them into the bathroom and said he needed to account for all of Michele’s medications. He told them he wanted the pills disposed of because he didn’t want to see them anymore.
  • After the pills were disposed of, Martin asked his son’s girlfriend to help clean the area.
  • The toxicology report showed Percicet, Valium, Phenergan, and Ambien in her system at the time of her death.
  • When Martin and Michele’s daughters came over to the house that afternoon, they noticed that all of Michele’s items had been removed from the residence, including Michele’s medical bed, and the log that kept track of the medications she had been taking.
  • When the daughters asked Martin where all of Michele’s pills were, he said that the police must have taken them.
  • Martin asked his daughters to come into the bathroom, so he could re-enact how he had found Michele. They didn’t want to, but he insisted.
  • The daughters told Martin that they would come home to live with him so they could watch the younger kids. Martin told them he was going to hire a nanny instead.
  • Martin told one of his daughters that he was worried that police were going to think he killed Michele.
  • Martin’s description of Michele when he found her in the tub was that she was draped over the edge of the tub, and her head was face-down. (No one else will describe it this way)
  • At Michele’s funeral, Martin was joking about being a bachelor. When friends offered to help him with the younger children, he said that he had hired a nurse who was going to help take care of them.
  • Martin’s mistress, Gypsy Willis, attended Michele’s funeral.
  • In the weeks following Michele’s death, Martin suddenly started wearing a different wedding ring. When asked about it, he brushed it off saying that it was “an old ring he hadn’t worn in awhile.”
  • Martin set up a meeting at a temple with one of his daughters. While they were talking, Gypsy approached and Martin acted as though he had used to work with her but hadn’t talked to her in awhile. In front of his daughter, he discussed the nanny position with her and asked for her phone number. (Even though Martin had exchanged more than 80 text messages with her over the last few days). Gypsy will testify that the meeting was pre-arranged by Martin and that he had told her that it would be a “good way to introduce her to the family.”
  • Martin created a “nanny committee” with some of his kids. They were supposed to interview four different candidates, but only Gypsy was interviewed. When the kids asked who else was going to interview, Martin told them that all other applicants had cancelled.
  • Gypsy was hired on as the nanny and moved into the home. When Martin called his daughter Alexis to tell her, she told him that Michele had told her about his affair with Gypsy. Martin told her to not come back home if she felt that way.
  • Gypsy will testify that their sexual relationship resumed after she moved in.
  • In July 2007, only three months after Michele’s death, Martin proposed to Gypsy.
  • During this trial, we will hear that the initial medical examiner determined that Michele died of Myocarditis, which is heart inflammation, normally caused by a virus. There will be an expert in cardiology who will testify that is unlikely and implausible.
  • Another medical examiner that will testify for the State is Joshua Perper. He said that symptoms for Myocarditis simply aren’t there. He concluded that Michele drowned.
  • An expert in toxicology will be called and he will testify that the medications that were in Michele’s system are all central nervous system depressants, and would make it difficult for her to defend herself.
  • Another medical examiner will testify that the cause of death was drug toxicity in addition to the Myocarditis.
  • The State will call five different people that Martin has spoken to about Michele’s death, and they all have checkered pasts. Most are inmates, but will claim that Martin called Michele a “bitch,”said that he gave her drugs and sleeping pills so she would die, and that he convinced her to get in the bathtub and then held her under water. He also told one of them that he could get away with things, and that he had gotten away with killing his wife.
  • Martin had another mistress named Anna, who said that Martin told her that he could kill someone and it could not be traced because of his medical expertise.

Overall, I thought the State’s opening arguments were good, but not great. I always think that prosecutors need to make the jurors really feel who the victim was, and try to gain as much sympathy for the victim as possible. I think hearing a little more about who Michele MacNeill was would have been a good move. I also feel like they have a lot of good circumstantial evidence, but I’m hoping they’ll have a smoking gun in there somewhere. Dr. MacNeill no doubt sounds suspicious, but is it enough for a conviction?

Opening Statements: DEFENSE

Martin MacNeill - Defense Opening Arguments

The Defense’s opening statements were a little more technical than the State’s. While the State has a lot of circumstantial evidence, it sounds like the Defense is planning on focusing more on the cause of death. They started out by saying that the Prosecution’s argument sounds like an Aesop’s fable, and that it is not the truth. Below are some highlights from their talking points:

  • There is no denying that Martin is a very eccentric person, but the jury must set aside emotion and base their decision on the facts of the case
  • The real culprit in this case is heart disease. The Prosecution will present testimony from three different Medical Examiners, and while there are some disagreements, they all agree that Michele’s heart disease was either the cause or the contributing cause of her death. The damage to Michele’s heart couldn’t have been caused by Martin and Martin couldn’t have known about the significant damage to her heart.
  • None of the Medical Examiners conclude that there was a homicide, because there’s a reasonable explanation.
  • The first Medical Examiner performed a detailed autopsy – drew blood from Michele’s heart, took tissue samples from her organs, and had toxicology screens conducted. She noted that the meds that were found in her system were low and in therapeutic range. She concluded that Michele died from natural causes – high blood pressure and inflammation of her heart. Michele also had liver disease.
  • Science shows natural explanation for her death. Investigators didn’t like that. One detective told people that he “had to get around the medical examiner” in this case.
  • The second medical examiner, Dr. Gray, reviewed the original autopsy. He received info from investigators, including info about Martin’s affair. Detectives asked him to change the manner of death. Dr. Gray said that it raises questions about the role of her husband in her death, but that there was nothing in the autopsy or toxicology reports to provide evidence of that. Detectives continued meeting with him, and in October 2010, Dr. Gray modified the cause of death to a heart arrhythmia due to combined effects of heart disease and blood toxicity (low levels may have contributed). He amended the manner of death to “undetermined.” However, he did not conclude that the death was homicide.
  • Dr. Gray also has uncertainty about the effects the meds may have had on Michele. He said the low levels found in her system aren’t consistence with an intentional overdose. Recently, Dr. Gray was approached by another detective who wanted him to change his findings, but Dr. Gray refused again.
  • The names of the drugs found in Michele’s system were as follows: Valium (Diasapan), Percicet (Oxycodon), Phenergan (Promethazine), Ambien (Zolpadem), and Lortab (Hydrocodone).
  • There is something called “Post-mortem redstribution.” when a person dies, the medications that were stored in a person’s muscle transfers back into the bloodstream and moves into the heart. In an autopsy, the blood taken from the heart is expected to contains a higher level of toxicity than when the person was alive. This is what happened with Michele. The autopsy was conducted 25 hours after her death.
  • The third Medical Examiner is Dr Perper. Investigators hired him to counter the Utah State Medical Examiner’s opinion. Perper appeared on the Nancy Grace show and said that he believed that Michele had drowned. 10 months later, he was hired by the State. He was given the same info that was given to Dr. Gray. He concluded that Michele had drowned. Perper also concluded that heart disease could have been a factor in Michele’s death, and that the manner of death is undetermined.
  • Science shows that the death is consistent with natural causes.
  • Investigators conducted their investigation backwards. They initially thought Martin killed Michele, and tried to mold their evidence around it.
  • The State’s witnesses have developed their opinions years after the fact, after they’ve been influenced by investigators, other witnesses and the media.
  • Martin may not have performed CPR correctly, given the circumstances. There is no significance of Michele throwing up on the EMTs after they performed CPR on her. This was after several minutes.
  • It wasn’t unusual that Martin couldn’t lift Michele out of the bathtub, because he had three surgeries on his toe and was told that there were masses that could be tumors on his toe.
  • Martin and Michele’s daughters have made multiple inconsistent statements. One of their daughters testified in a pre-trial hearing that Michele had been so over-medicated in the day following her surgery, that she was in a coma state until the early evening of that day. However, in the medication log that she kept, she had written down that she had given her mom multiple medications throughout that day.
  • The inmates that will be testifying for the State all have motives to want to testify. Most of them have been given certain benefits to say bad things about Martin.
  • In the 911 calls, Martin is frantically trying to do CPR on his wife, but the 911 operator keeps him on the phone.
  • The Medical Examiners will testify that Michele died within one hour of arriving at the hospital, which would be 11:24 AM at the earliest. At 11 AM, Martin was in his office on a phone call that lasted six minutes. After that, he received an award at the Safety Fair (11:15). He then continued to talk to vendors for approximately 5 – 10 minutes. At about 11:35, he picked up daughter, and they arrived at home around 11:45 AM. They found Michele in the bathtub and called 911 at 11:46 AM.
  • Prosecution has jumped to conclusions about Martin’s guilt.

The Defense’s opening arguments were actually pretty good, in my opinion. They were very methodical in going over each item of evidence and anticipating what the Prosecution is going to try to show.

State’s Witness: Scott Kent Thompson, Facial Plastic Surgeon

Dr Thompson - Martin MacNeill Trial

Dr. Scott Kent Thompson was the State’s first witness. He is a facial plastic surgeon from Utah. Below are some highlights from his testimony:

  • He had a consultation with Michele MacNeill. She expressed concerns about her aging and wanted to get a facelift. She was nervous about the surgery. Martin and their daughter were also present at the meeting.
  • Michele listed Martin as her primary care physician on her intake form.
  • Martin mentioned that Michele had high blood pressure, but that it wasn’t a severe problem. He said she was going to be prescribed high blood pressure medication. Thompson didn’t question it since Martin was her primary care physician.
  • Martin directed the discussion about medications. He said she gets really nervous and anxious and wanted to make sure he had access to certain meds for her after the surgery. Dr. Thompson wrote the prescriptions that were requested, including Percocet & Phenergan suppositories.
  • Thompson doesn’t normally prescribe all the meds that Martin requested, but he went ahead with it because Martin was a doctor.
  • Thompson gave Michele instructions for the meds and said that this was more than he usually prescribes, so she needs to be careful when taking them.
  • He saw Michele two days after her surgery for a regular post-surgery check-up. He was very happy with her progress.
  • He received a phone call on April 11 from Martin, stating that Michele had been found unresponsive in the bathtub. He seemed frantic and very upset, and said EMTs were trying to resuscitate her.
  • Thompson said he was initially worried that she may have had a bloot clot, but then started to worry about the medications.
  • He said Martin was very “depressed and sad” about Michele’s death.
Cross Examination

On cross examination, Dr. Thompson admits that he didn’t remember Martin ever giving him a list of prescriptions he wanted prescribed. He also said that Martin seemed very concerned about his wife.

Jury Questions

The jury is allowed to ask questions of each witness after they testify. They submit their questions in writing, and the judge reviews them. The jurors had one question for Dr. Thompson. They asked him if he had any concerns about Martin being Michele’s primary care physician. Dr. Thompson said it was a little unusual.

State’s Witness: Von Welch, Internal Medical Physician

Martin MacNeill Trial - Dr Von Welch

The next witness, Von Welch, is an internal medical physician in Utah. Dr. Welch performed a pre-operation exam on Michele MacNeill in March 2007, at the request of her husband Martin. Below are the highlights from his testimony:

  • Welch and Martin used to work together. Welch said there were things he liked and things he didn’t like about Martin. One thing he liked was that Martin was big on backing off meds with patients, and didn’t overmedicate.
  • Michele was in excellent health with two exceptions. She had elevated blood pressure and depression.
  • During the examination, he asked Martin to leave the room, because Martin was answering all the questions for her and he wanted her to talk freely.
  • He found no evidence of heart disease as he was examining her.
  • During the examination, Martin was anxious that Michele be able to go through with the surgery without delay. He was disappointed when Welch suggested they postpone it due to her high blood pressure.
  • He said he was shocked when he heard about Michele’s death. It was unexpected to hear that she would have a bad outcome from the surgery, since she was very healthy when he examined her.
Cross Examination

On cross examination, the Defense asked Welch about his prior testimony, pointing out inconsistencies. The jurors had one question for Dr. Welch. They asked him what kind of facility was it that Martin worked at. Dr. Welch answered that Martin worked at the Utah State Developmental Center, caring for handicapped patients.

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