MacNeill will serve a minimum of 17 years before the parole board decides if he qualifies for an early release
Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP

A Utah doctor, convicted of murdering his wife in a case that became a true-crime cable TV obsession, was sentenced Friday to 17 years to life in prison at a hearing in which his daughter called him a monster.

The long-awaited sentence came seven years after prosecutors say Martin MacNeill knocked out his wife with drugs prescribed following cosmetic surgery and left her to die in a bathtub so he could begin a new life with his mistress.

“My father’s facade has now crumbled,” said Alexis Somers, who asked the judge to give MacNeill the maximum penalty. “My father is a monster. He has never shown remorse for any of his crimes. He must be held accountable for his actions.”

Judge Derek Pullan gave 58-year-old MacNeill the harshest term possible: at least 15 years and up to life on the murder charge, plus one to 15 years on an obstruction-of-justice charge. A third sentence in a separate sexual abuse case adds another one to 15 years.

Pullan said the sentences must run one after the other, not at the same time. The Utah parole board will decide later whether MacNeill can be released after 17 years or must serve a longer term.

The one-time doctor and lawyer with a family of eight did not address the court during the sentencing. He appeared gaunt, with close-cropped gray hair and glasses.

The case shocked the Mormon community of Pleasant Grove, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City. A Provo judge previously denied a request for a new trial.

Investigators initially found that Michele MacNeill, 50, a mother of eight and onetime California beauty queen, died of natural causes in 2007, possibly of heart disease.

However, her family repeatedly urged authorities to investigate further until charges were filed five years after her death.

“They were a driving force, definitely,” prosecutor Chad Grunander said of the victim’s daughters and sister, Linda Cluff.

Cluff said she imagines MacNeill dying at her husband’s hands and wonders whether she was afraid or cried for help.

“He thought nothing more of her than something to throw away and get rid of,” said Cluff, who turned and faced MacNeill during the hearing.

“I can look into his eyes and say, ‘Martin, you haven’t gotten away with this,’ ” she said.

The judge pointed to MacNeill’s careful planning, saying he’d orchestrated the killing so his 6-year-old daughter would find her mother dead.

“Mr. MacNeill, as you deprived Michele MacNeill of her life, the state of Utah exacts from you today the liberty you otherwise might have enjoyed in your remaining years,” Pullan said.

MacNeill, who was sentenced earlier this week to one to 15 years in prison in a separate sexual abuse case, has maintained his innocence.

Randy Spencer, his attorney, argued at the trial that Michele MacNeill died of a heart attack and fell into the tub.

Prosecutors conceded the largely circumstantial case wasn’t an easy one. Grunander said the trail had gone cold by the time he came onto the case in 2010, and the judge excluded some evidence from the trial.

“You have a doctor and lawyer, beautiful wife, beautiful children, well educated, successful people, and this happens in the background, it is shocking to some degree, certainly,” Grunander said.

Last year’s three-week trial peeled back the facade with testimony from jailhouse snitches and MacNeill’s former mistress, Gypsy Willis.

MacNeill introduced her as a nanny within weeks of his wife’s death, but his older daughters said they quickly recognized the woman as his secret lover and the subject of arguments between their parents.

Prosecutors said MacNeill insisted his wife get a face-lift, and they pointed to erratic behavior and what they called phony grief the day she died.

Former MacNeill cellmates testified that he had confessed in his wife’s death. Spencer said the jailhouse snitches lied, and his client should get a new trial.

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