SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah doctor found guilty of drugging his beauty queen wife and leaving her to die in a bathtub appealed a separate sexual abuse conviction on Tuesday, arguing he didn't get a fair trial after he was convicted in the high-profile murder case.
The 2013 murder case against Martin MacNeill became a national true-crime cable TV obsession with its tales of plastic surgery and philandering, betrayal and family feuding, jailhouse snitches and a jetted bathtub brought into the courtroom.
"Utah County had not seen a case like that in decades," attorney Jonathan Nish said.
MacNeill was also charged with sexually abusing his adult daughter the month after his wife's death. That case came to trial the year after his murder conviction, and his lawyers argue the publicity should have moved it out of the county.
Prosecutors countered there's no proof that the members of the jury were biased and the forcible sex abuse conviction should stand. One juror acknowledged being familiar with the case, but said it wouldn't affect the outcome.
The Utah Court of Appeals didn't immediately rule Tuesday. Judge Gregory Orme asked whether moving the trial would have fixed any bias problem.
"I would suggest the pretrial publicity is so widespread that you'd get at least the same response on a jury panel in Salt Lake County," he said. A lower court judge refused to move the case ahead of the 2014 sexual abuse trial, saying prospective jurors in other large counties in the state are just as likely to be familiar with the case.
A move to a smaller, more rural county could have been the answer, Nish said.
MacNeill, 60, has maintained he's innocent in both cases. He is also appealing the murder conviction by arguing that testimony from jailhouse snitches was tainted. That hearing is expected later this year.
The Associated Press doesn't normally identify sexual assault victims, but daughter Alexis Somers has agreed to be identified so she can advocate for others. "My father is a dangerous man and needs to spend the rest of his life in prison," she said Tuesday.
MacNeill is serving at least 11 years and up to life in prison in the sex-abuse case and the 2007 death of his wife, Michele.
Prosecutors said MacNeill overmedicated her after a face-lift and left her to die in a bathtub so he could begin a new life with his mistress. Defense attorneys argued she could have died of natural causes. No official cause of death was determined, and some lawyers raised questions about the verdict in the largely circumstantial case.
The MacNeill 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 a 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.