A formerly prominent Utah doctor who drugged and drowned his beauty queen wife may have killed himself in prison earlier this week, his lawyer says

By Christine Pelisek
April 12, 2017 04:34 PM
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Courtesy Rachel MacNeill

A formerly prominent Utah doctor who drugged and drowned his wife a decade ago may have killed himself in prison earlier this week, his lawyer tells PEOPLE.

Utah authorities said Tuesday they were investigating Martin MacNeill’s death in prison as a suicide. It is unclear how the convicted killer died.

MacNeill, 60, was found unresponsive Sunday at 11:23 a.m. near the greenhouse in the outdoor yard of a facility at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, authorities said.

Officials attempted CPR and called for emergency responders, but MacNeill was unable to be revived and was pronounced dead at the facility.

His death ends a years-long saga of secrets and lies: He had been in prison custody since September 2014, after he was convicted in 2013 of the first-degree murder of his 50-year-old wife, Michele MacNeill, in 2007.

Martin was convicted in 2014 of second-degree forcible sexual abuse for inappropriately touching one of his adult daughters soon after his wife died. He’d been previously convicted of identity theft in 2009, along with his mistress.

Michele, a mother of eight and onetime beauty queen, was found dead by her 6-year-old daughter in a bathtub in their upscale home in Pleasant Grove, Utah, on April 11, 2007.

The medical examiner originally concluded Michele’s death was due to natural causes, but her family repeatedly urged police to investigate.

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Martin was charged with Michele’s murder five years after her death. Prosecutors said he forced his wife to get a face-lift and then drugged her and left her in the tub, all so he could continue a years-long affair.

Within weeks of his wife’s death, Martin introduced his mistress as the children’s nanny and moved her into their home, prosecutors said.

Martin claimed he had nothing to do with his wife’s death and was at work when she died; his attorneys argued she had a heart attack and fell into the bath.

His first parole hearing was set for 2052 — meaning he was effectively serving a life sentence.

Martin MacNeill in September 2014.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

“It is a sad day,” Martin’s defense attorney, Randy Spencer, told PEOPLE on Monday.

Spencer suspected that Martin most likely killed himself: “He had attempted suicide twice before while incarcerated, so that is my suspicion. He told me on multiple occasions that prison is no life.”

Martin previously tried to kill himself in jail and while in prison custody — both times by cutting his femoral artery — Spencer says.

He says he last saw Martin a few weeks earlier and he seemed to be on an upswing, despite the fact that he had recently lost his bid for a new trial.

At the time of his death, Spencer says, Martin was in a special mental health wing because of his previous suicide attempts.

“He was doing well there,” he says. “Last year he had a garden that he was proud of. He told me it was kind of fun to grow food that he could then eat.”

Family members hold up photos of Michele MacNeill while in court in August 2012.

In March, Martin’s attorneys argued that he should get a new trial because jurors relied on false testimony and engaged in misconduct by withholding thousands of pieces of evidence from his attorneys, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

However the Utah Court of Appeals ruled there was enough evidence presented at his trial to convict him, the paper reports.

Spencer says Martin always maintained his innocence: “He told me he had done a lot of bad things in his life, and he finds it very ironic that he was convicted of something that he did not do.”

Two of his daughters felt differently when they spoke to PEOPLE in 2012. One of them, Alexis Somers, said then: “It turns out he was a father we never knew. We grew up loving our dad. But his entire life has been a lie.”

(A call to Michele’s sister after Martin’s death was not returned.)

Somers also had strong words for Martin at his 2014 sentencing, saying in court, “[His] facade has now crumbled. My father is a monster.

“He has never shown remorse for any of his crimes. He must be held accountable for his actions.”