September 19, 2014 / 6:16 PM / 5 years ago

Utah doctor sentenced to 15 years to life for wife’s 2007 murder

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A Utah judge sentenced a former doctor to 15 years to life in prison on Friday for murdering his wife by drugging her with a powerful cocktail of painkillers and holding her head underwater in a bathtub until she drowned, court records show.

Michele MacNeill, 50, was found unconscious in the bathtub of her Utah home, 35 miles south of Salt Lake City, by her 6-year-old daughter in 2007, about a week after undergoing plastic surgery.

The sentencing in a Provo courtroom ends a seven-year battle by Michele MacNeill’s elder daughters and sister to persuade authorities to investigate and prosecute Martin MacNeill for the crimes.

“Today we are able to finally be free from this,” Rachel MacNeill, one of Michele MacNeill’s daughters, told reporters after the hearing.

A former physician and attorney, 58-year-old Martin MacNeill was convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice after a four-week trial in November.

On the latter charge, MacNeill was sentenced to a prison term of one to 15 years, court records show.

Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan ordered the terms to be served consecutively to another sentence of one to 15 years MacNeill is already serving in an unrelated sexual abuse case. He could be eligible for parole in 17 years.

MacNeill offered no statements to the court or to his children during sentencing, court records show. Calls to his defense attorney, Randy Spencer, and Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander were not immediately returned on Friday. 

Prosecutors faced an uphill battle to secure MacNeill’s conviction. Only one of three medical examiners who reviewed the case ruled Michele MacNeill’s death was the result of drowning, and none could definitively conclude she was killed.

But prosecutors wove a narrative of a controlling, demanding husband who pushed his wife into an unwanted plastic surgery and then used his training as both a doctor and attorney to cover up the crime.

He asked his wife’s doctor for powerful painkillers, sleeping pills and anxiety medications to aid her recovery and then had the pills flushed down the toilet within hours of Michele MacNeill’s death, prosecutors argued.

Prosecutors say they believe MacNeill’s motive for the murder was to remove his wife from the picture to be with a mistress, Gypsy Willis, a nursing student 20 years his junior.

Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham

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