TODAY   |  October 18, 2013

Utah doctor’s murder trial begins

The murder trial against 57-year-old Utah doctor Martin MacNeill is underway, as prosecutors begin to argue that he murdered his beauty queen wife so he could carry out an affair with his mistress. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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>> profile murder trial underway in utah. a doctor accused in the 2007 death of his own wife. it's the state's first ever televised criminal case . miguel almaguer is outside criminal court . good morning to you.

>> reporter: matt, good morning. it took prosecutors more than six years to build their case and now go to trial. for the next five weeks there should be plenty of drama in the courtroom. there's allegations of deceit, betrayal, and of course, murder.

>> this case is a puzzle with many pieces.

>> reporter: during opening arguments, prosecutors portrayed dr. martin macneill as a calculating killer. a man that told fellow inmates he could get away with murder. hard to believe for so many that considered him the picture perfect family man.

>> he gave her drugs and sleeping pills to get her to pass out and die.

>> reporter: a physician and a lawyer, he married a beauty queen , had eight children, but his wife came crashing down when his wife michelle was found dead in the family home.

>> fallen in the bathtub.

>> who's in the bathtub? who's in the bathtub?

>> my wife.

>> reporter: michelle 's death was never ruled a homicide but macneill 's own daughter has long accused her father of murder.

>> he killed my mother who was my best friend. most wonderful, incredible person.

>> reporter: after michelle underwent a facelift, prosecutors say martin macneill overdrugged and then drowned his wife in the bathtub but his lawyers say macneill that pled not guilty was at work. in court they hammered home the coroner's report.

>> none of the medical examiners believed it was a homicide.

>> with the plastic surgeon and a former colleague taking the stand thursday, a key witness could be gypsy willis. she was macneill 's mistress and his motive for murder. willis moved into the family home after michelle 's death and even attended her funeral.

>> the two of them exchanged over 20 text messages on the day of michelle 's funeral. after the funeral, the defendant was jovial, laughing and smiling.

>> it's very critical that during this trial you set aside your emotions and you evaluate this case based upon the facts.

>> reporter: a case six years in the making that has gripped a community and torn a family apart. this case has turned family on family. macneill 's daughters have been in court holding up a picture of their mother. they are poised to testify against their father. macneill and his mistress were convicted of fraud charges on a separate case after her death. in convicted in this case, he faces life in prison , matt.

>>> miguel, thank you very much. lisa bloom is today's legal analyst. good morning to you.

>> good morning.

>> this is a circumstantial case. there's no smoke gun here. what's the strongest aspect of the case against dr. macneill .

>> if this guy is innocent he has a lot to answer for, he's accused of pressuring her into the facelift overseeing the medications. almost overmedicating her once. a couple of days later giving her so many pills that she died and afterwards covering it up by disposing of the medications and logs.

>> this is difficult to prove. this is a murder case. what's the weakest part of their case?

>> that's true. causation will be a problem. showing that not only did he overmedicate her, but he did so intentionally. i'm sure he's going to say she was recovering from surgery and was in a lot of pain. we were controlling that by way of medication. yes i gave her the pills but i did so to try to help her heal from the facelift.

>> and he says he was either at work at the time of death or driving his daughter to or from school.

>> that's right but apparently his office was only about five minutes away from the home and look if you kill somebody by giving them a lot of pills, they don't die instantly. it's not like a gunshot. the prosecution can find enough time in the time line to show he is good for this crime.

>> and having the mistress move into the home posing as a nanny after the wife's death. if he was on trial charged with being a heel they'll convict him in a minute but there's a higher standard here.

>> that's right. he is not accused of being an adult rer but a murderer. it gives him a motive.

>> thank you very much.