SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah doctor convicted in November of killing his wife won’t get a new trial, a judge ruled Friday.
Martin MacNeill argued that his cellmates lied when they testified that he confessed to the crime.
Judge Derek Pullan denied the motion for a new trial even though he agreed with many of the defense’s arguments. Pullan ruled that a devastating cross-examination from the defense had already convinced the jury that the cellmate with the most damaging testimony wasn’t believable.
Authorities said MacNeill gave his wife, Michele MacNeill, drugs prescribed after cosmetic surgery and left her to drown in the bathtub of their home in 2007 so he could begin a new life with his mistress.
The case shocked the Mormon community of Pleasant Grove, 35 miles south of Salt Lake City, and captured national attention because the defendant was a wealthy doctor and lawyer, a father of eight in a picture-perfect family, and former bishop in his local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Martin MacNeill maintained his innocence, and his attorneys tried to prove Michelle MacNeill could have died of natural causes.
The judge agreed Friday that the case was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the cellmate’s testimony was central to the case. Pullan also agreed that prosecutors didn’t tell the whole truth when they said the inmates weren’t offered anything in exchange for their testimony.
“If MacNeill had only to show that the state committed serious errors in this case, his motion for a new trial would be granted,” he wrote. But Pullan said defense attorney Randy Spencer’s “long, pointed and devastating” cross-examination of the cellmate Michael Buchanan showed the jury he would do or say anything to get out of prison early.
Pullan ruled that MacNeill was convicted even though the jury didn’t trust Buchanan, so a new trial wouldn’t change the outcome.
Defense attorney Randy Spencer argued that Buchanan picked up facts of the case from TV coverage of the case to embellish details, and that he hid the fact that he expected to win an early release on a drug conviction.
Spencer said he was disappointed in the ruling.
“I suspect there will be an appeal,” he said.
MacNeill faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on his murder and obstruction of justice convictions. He also faces up to 15 years in prison after he was convicted of sexually abusing his adult daughter in a separate case.
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