PROVO -- The trial in the case against former Pleasant Grove Dr. Martin MacNeill began Thursday morning with opening statements from the prosecution and the defense.
MacNeill is charged with first-degree murder and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, in the 2007 death of his wife Michele. MacNeill was charged in August 2012, nearly five years after his former beauty queen wife was found in a bathtub at the couple’s Pleasant Grove home.
During opening arguments, Sam Pead with the Utah County Attorney’s Office laid out what prosecutors believe happened the morning Michele died, just eight days after she had plastic surgery.
Pead told jurors that this case began a year and a half before Michele’s death when MacNeill began an extramarital affair with Gypsy Willis.
“This case is a puzzle with many pieces, pieces required to show what happened to Michele MacNeill on April 11, 2007,” Pead told jurors.
Pead’s opening statement lasted almost an hour and was filled with a detailed narrative of how Martin MacNeill acted following his wife’s death, how he brought Willis into his home shortly after Michele MacNiell’s death and how he told inmates in a federal prison that he gave his wife too much medicine and held her underwater, but police wouldn’t be able to prove it was him.
Pead said that MacNeill pressured his wife to get a face-lift, then persuaded the plastic surgeon to prescribe the potent mix of pills for her recovery.
But medical examiners disagree about what caused Michele’s death. They initially ruled she died of natural causes, possibly from a heart disorder, then changed the finding to undetermined.
Defense attorney Susanne Gustin focused her opening on the science behind the case, telling jurors that all three medical examiners in the case agree that Michele died from a heart condition.
“None of the medical examiners believe that Michele’s death was due to homicide, because there is a reasonable natural explanation,” Gustin said.
Two doctors who examined Michele MacNeill prior to her surgery in 2007 were called on Thursday. Dr. Scott Thompson testified Thursday that he performed the plastic surgery Michele MacNeill had the week prior to her death.
Thompson testified that his patient was nervous about going forward with the surgery, but she was comfortable and ready to go and later said that he would not have gone through with the surgery if he felt that MacNeill was forcing his wife into the surgery.
Thompson also was questioned about Michele MacNeill’s high blood pressure, but said that because she was already being treated by her primary care doctor, MacNeill, that he wasn’t concerned about the condition interfering or causing risks for the surgery.
Thompson testified that he prescribed Michele several medications for post-operation, including two pain medications, an anti-nausea medication, a sleep aid, anti-anxiety medication, an antibiotic and a steroid for swelling. Thompson said that he would normally prescribe only one pain medication and that he doesn’t normally prescribe an anti-nausea or anxiety medication.
He said he prescribed those medications only at the request of Martin MacNeill to help her handle the pain. Thompson says that he wouldn’t trust patients to take those drugs safely on their own and that the combination of taking them together could be dangerous.
However, because MacNeill was a physician and would be monitoring Michele, he was willing to prescribe the extra medications.
During cross examination, Thompson testified that he believed a patient could take all the medicines he had prescribed to Michele and be ok, but that each patient varies.
Dr. Von Welch also testified Thursday, saying he did an examination of Michele MacNeill at the request of her husband to discuss her high blood pressure prior to having surgery.
Welch testified that when he examined Michele, she had high blood pressure and was depressed and that he advised holding off on the plastic surgery until her blood pressure was under control. Welch said that Martin was disappointed with the news that the surgery should be postponed.
Welch said it was a surprise when he got the news that Michele had died.
“I was shocked. When I examined her she was in good health,” Welch said. “It was unexpected that she would have a bad outcome from surgery.”
Welch, who knew Martin MacNeill through work, also testified that he was impressed by the way he handled patients at the Utah State Developmental Center. Welch said that as medical director, MacNeill focused on reducing the number of medications the patients were taking and that he believed under other directors, patients at the center had been overmedicated.
The five-week trial before Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan will resume Friday morning and is scheduled to run through Nov. 15.
Follow @paigefieldsted on Twitter for live updates from the trial.