PROVO -- Martin MacNeill's preliminary hearing began Wednesday morning at 8:49 a.m. in a mostly empty, gray courtroom. By the time a handful of newspaper reporters arrived and sat in the front row of the gallery, MacNeill was already waiting in the front of the courtroom, staring straight ahead in his gray-and-white striped jail jumpsuit.
Prosecutors began their efforts to prove MacNeill killed his wife Michele in 2007 by calling Dr. Von Welch to the witness stand. Among other things, Welch -- who said he had a professional relationship with MacNeill -- recalled performing a preoperative examination on Michele shortly before she was scheduled to have plastic surgery. During the examination, Welch testified, he discovered via several tests that Michele had high blood pressure.
"I felt it should be postponed because it was an elective surgery," Welch said.
Welch also testified that Michele was difficult to engage with and not at liberty to speak frankly with him. She also deferred to MacNeill when asked questions, so Welch said he asked MacNeill to step out of the room.
"She seemed very sad and stressed and she couldn't really explain why," Welch testified.
MacNeill's demeanor was entirely different, Welch said, and he seemed anxious.
"There seemed to be an urgency to get the exam done," Welch added.
MacNeill showed no apparent emotion throughout Welch's testimony, instead sitting nearly motionless at the defense table.
Welch later went on to say that he was surprised that Michele went forward with her plastic surgery, despite his recommendation to wait. He also was "shocked" when he heard that she had died shortly after the surgery.
Prosecutors believe MacNeill pushed his wife to get the surgery, then overmedicated her during the following week. He later killed Michele, prosecutors believe, and sent his young daughter to find her in a bathtub. Prosecutors believe MacNeill's affair with a woman named Gypsy Willis provided him with a motive to commit murder.
Prosecutors' second witness was Dr. Scott Thompson, who performed Michele's plastic surgery. Thompson explained that MacNeill found him through an ad in the newspaper and during an initial meeting on March 22, 2007, he discussed operative and non-operative procedures for Michele's face. "They seemed very happy together," Thompson said. "Martin definitely had the stronger personality, the more dominant personality."
According to Thompson, the MacNeills chose on the spot to pursue all of the operations they discussed, which was atypical but not unheard of. On April 3, Thompson then performed three facial surgeries on Michele and everything seemed fine.
"Everything went very well," Thompson testified. "There were no complications."
However, Thompson also said that he prescribed unusual medications for Michele at MacNeill's request. Thompson explained that "from the beginning" MacNeill had described Michele as being highly sensitive to pain and requested prescriptions for Percocet and Valium, in addition to the usual Ambien, Lortab and Phenergan. Thompson noted that he ordinarily doesn't prescribe Percocet but consented because MacNeill was a doctor himself.
Thompson also testified that both his normal combination of drugs as well as the combinations he gave Michele could be potentially lethal if misused and he consequently advised careful monitoring.
In the days following Michele's surgery she began to make a normal recovery, Thompson went on to say. She was walking during post-operation visits and was gradually being weaned off her medications. By one week after the surgery, she was down to one or two Percocet a day, which Thompson said was fine.
Still, on April 11 MacNeill called Thompson saying that Michele had been found unresponsive. Thompson described MacNeill as "really upset and frantic." Thompson himself was "devastated" because Michele's recovery had been going so well, he said.
During cross examination, defense attorney Randall Spencer quizzed Thompson about the combination of drugs he administered. Spencer also asked if he would ever perform plastic surgery on a woman who was being pressured into the procedure by her husband. Thompson replied that he would not, and further explained that Michele seemed to be in favor of the surgery and even appeared to have support from Michele's daughter, Alexis.
Thompson also testified that Michele had said she didn't want to be on medication.
MacNeill faces one count of murder, a first-degree felony, and one count of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. The charges were filed earlier this year after years of investigation, much of which occurred after MacNeill's daughters insisted their father had murdered their mother.
MacNeill's preliminary hearing is scheduled to wrap up next week.