Entries in Utah (60)


Martin MacNeill Trial: Jury Finds Utah Doctor Guilty of Killing His Wife

George Frey/Getty Images(SALT LAKE CITY) -- A Utah jury has found Dr. Martin MacNeil guilty of drugging and drowning his wife -- all so he could allegedly pursue an affair with a woman he met online.

MacNeill, 57, has been found guilty of first degree murder and obstruction of justice for the April 11, 2007, death of his wife, Michele MacNeill, 50. The former beauty queen's cause of death has been the main source of contention between the prosecution and defense.

MacNeill will be sentenced Jan. 7 at 1 p.m. His bail will remain at $1 million dollars until sentencing.

Prosecutors said MacNeill persuaded his wife to have plastic surgery so he could dope her up during her recovery and then drown her, clearing the way for his purported mistress, Gypsy Willis, to move in to the family's home.

MacNeill's defense lawyers said heart problems were a contributing factor in the mother of eight's death and that the Utah doctor was not guilty.

His defense attorney, Susanne Gustin, acknowledged at the start of the trial that MacNeill "has made poor choices in his life. We've heard he had affairs during his marriage," she said.

"We may think he is a total jerk, that is absolutely disgusting and that's natural. But it's very critical that during this trial you set aside your emotion," Gustin admonished the jury when the trial began a month ago.

During the three week trial, family fireworks flew as four of MacNeill's daughters testified. One of his oldest daughters, Alexis Somers, told the jury that she believes her father was guilty.

"Ever since the day my mom died, I was concerned that my father killed her," Somers said. "I've been fighting to get justice for this case ever since then."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Woman Revived After Avalanche Burial in Utah Backcountry

Obtained by ABC News(SALT LAKE CITY) -- A 43-year-old backcountry skier revived after she was buried in an avalanche is now in fair condition at University of Utah Hospital, hospital officials said.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, Elizabeth Malloy and a male friend were in Millcreek Canyon, Utah, a popular spot near Salt Lake City with no designated ski resorts but well-known for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

At approximately 5 p.m., police believe Malloy and her friend triggered an avalanche while backcountry skiing.

"When the avalanche happened, she was completely buried," Lt. Justin Hoyal of the Utah Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake told ABC News.  "The male party that she was with had the necessary equipment.  He was able to locate her and get her out."

Once the male dug out Malloy from the snow, he noticed she was unconscious, Hoyal said.

"She was not breathing," Hoyal added.  "He was able to resuscitate her to where she was conscious and speaking.  There is no cell service in that canyon and, fortunately, they were in an area where he was able to move and get a signal and call for help."

When the rescue team located the two via helicopter at approximately 8 p.m., they were 1.7 miles from the trailhead and approximately 9,000 feet in elevation on the slope.  At that point, both were air transported to the bottom of the canyon and taken to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.  Malloy's condition initially was classified as serious, but has been upgraded to fair, hospital officials said.

According to the Utah Avalanche Center, the avalanche measured 800 feet vertically and 700 feet in width.

"Seven hundred feet wide is over two football fields, and I would think that [in] anything that is that wide and several feet deep you would feel like a toothpick in a hurricane," said Craig Gordon of the Utah Avalanche Center.  "That is a large piece of snow.  The lady that was caught in that avalanche is lucky to be alive."

In backcountry skiing areas that are not controlled, Hoyal said, there is a high risk of an avalanche.

"One of the big messages here is people don't have necessary avalanche equipment and can't get them out," Hoyal said.  "It takes us time to get up to the backcountry and get to them.  In this particular incident, this gentleman was prepared, had the necessary equipment and, essentially, saved her life."

When skiing in undesignated areas, people should be prepared and check with the Utah Avalanche Center before heading out, Hoyal said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Missing Utah Teen Found; Police Call Disappearance 'Suspicious'

ABC News(SALT LAKE CITY) -- The frantic search for a missing 13-year-old girl in Utah came to a close overnight when police found the teenager at a local Walmart after she'd disappeared with no mobile phone, shoes or even a coat.  

But what looks like a case of a teen runaway is being called suspicious by police.

Brooklyn Gittins' family said the young girl went to bed Tuesday night wearing her pajamas.  When they awoke, she was gone, and even her eyeglasses were left behind.  She contacted her family late Thursday night.

Lt. Justin Hoyal of Salt Lake Unified Police told ABC News that she is safe at home now.

"We believe that she did leave her house on Tuesday evening, and somebody picked her up and harbored her for the last two and a half days.  We're going to investigate," Hoyal said.  "She's 13 years old, and for someone to hold her is wrong.  We'll do everything to find the person and bring [that person] to justice."

Gittins was unharmed and was still wearing her gray T-shirt and black pajama pants.  She had no shoes or coat.

"Brooklyn called her grandmother about 11:30 p.m. and told her that she was at the Walmart in South Jordan," Salt Lake police said.  "Her grandmother then called Utah police department.  We responded to the Walmart and located Brooklyn.  The disappearance is suspicious and we are still investigating where she went and who she was with."

Police say there were no signs of forced entry in her home outside Salt Lake City, and none of the straight-A student's friends had heard from her after she vanished.

"There are elements of this case that are extremely concerning.  We are hopeful that, however, that this is simply a runaway," police said on Thursday.

Gittins has gone missing before.  Her family says she ran away last summer, but soon returned

More than 500 volunteers, as well as dog teams, fanned out Thursday to search the area near Gittins' home.  However, authorities sent the volunteers home overnight, saying the storm that brought all the heavy snow was too dangerous.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Fired Utah State Trooper Accused of Falsifying DUI Arrests

Thinkstock/Getty Images(SALT LAKE CITY) -- A class-action lawsuit has been filed against a former Utah Highway Patrol trooper and her superiors alleging that she filed false DUI charges during her career.

The department fired Lisa Steed in November for alleged misconduct related to her duties.

Attorney Michael Studebaker, who is one of the lawyers leading the class-action lawsuit, says he has been contacted by at least 40 people claiming Steed wrongfully arrested them on DUI or drug charges.

"Culture of corruption.  The stories are just rampant," said Studebaker, who filed the lawsuit on Dec. 14 in District Court in Salt Lake County.

Lawyers have yet to determine exactly how much the plaintiffs will seek in monetary damages.

One of the alleged victims was Michael Choate, who says Steed pulled him over for speeding with his wife in the car.

"She said she clocked me at 73.  I was going about 50, 52 at most," Choate said.

Choate was arrested and charged with DUI, but the charge was reduced to having an open container of alcohol in the car after a blood test showed he was not drunk.  Choate says he was forced to pay $3,000 in fines to get his car back.

Choate was also upset that his wife was forced to find her own way home after his arrest.

"They dropped her off at a Burger King," he said.  "She didn't have any money, she didn't have her cellphone with her.  She had to borrow a quarter from a lady to make a phone call."

Steed and her attorney have not responded to requests for comment.  Utah Highway Patrol says it cannot comment on pending litigation.

Steed is under investigation by the FBI.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Utah Boy Brings Gun to School and Gets Arrested

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(KEARNS, Utah) -- Prosecutors in Kearns, Utah, are preparing criminal charges against an 11-year-old boy who brought a .22 caliber handgun to school with him on Monday, which he claimed was in response to last week's shootings at Newtown, Conn.

However, while the boy apparently told Granite School District administrators that he brought the firearm and ammunition to West Kearns Elementary School to protect himself, others are alleging that the youngster had more nefarious intentions.

Mandee Doyle, whose daughter goes to the school, says the principal called to tell her that her child was threatened by the gun-wielding boy, who reportedly held the weapon to the girl's head.

Doyle then angrily told reporters, "I'm taking my kids out of school.  They ain't coming back here."

Meanwhile, Isabelle Rios, a classmate of Doyle's daughter, alleged the boy "pulled out a gun and he put it to my head -- me and my friend -- (and) said he was going to kill us.  I told him I was going to tell, but he said, 'If you tell, I'm going to kill you.'"

Rios later told a teacher who quickly disarmed the boy.  He'll learn the extent of the charges against him later in the week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Utah Custody Battle: Adopted Baby's Mom Wants Tot in Good Home

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Tira Bland, the Utah mother who gave up her baby for adoption, only to have a judge order the girl returned to her biological father, says that she feels sorry for the couple who adopted her daughter.

A judge ordered Utah couple Jared and Kristi Frei to return the adopted toddler to her biological father, Terry Achane, after it was revealed that Bland gave up the child without the father's knowledge or permission.

"Her well being is all that matters to me," Bland told ABC News referring to her child.  "I want to see her successful.  I want to see her in a home, a good home."

She is sorry that her ex-husband is challenging the adoption.

"I'm hurt for the Fries," Bland said.  "They're great people."

Achane, 31, a staff sergeant in the Army and Bland's ex-husband, was transferred from Texas where he lived with Bland to South Carolina.  The staff sergeant claims that in 2010, without his knowledge, Bland put the child up for adoption through a Utah agency.

When Achane learned last year that the child, who he calls Teleah, was being raised by the Freis, he asked a court to give him custody.  Last month, a judge did just that.  

The Freis now have less than 60 days to return the 21-month-old girl, who they call Leah, to her father.  But a lawyer for the Freis told ABC News earlier this week that they don't plan to return the toddler, and will appeal the judge's ruling.

Bland says the Freis took her in, and agreed to the adoption after Achane left Texas and moved to South Carolina with the Army.  Both sides agree he knew Bland was pregnant, and that he still had to move for work.

Bland says that she and Achane had discussed adoption, but in the end, she says, he abandoned her and that's why she turned to the Freis.

"They cared about me and the well being of Teleah when he wasn't there, when he didn't care," Bland said.  "He showed no interest in me being pregnant.  When he left me, he didn't leave me with an address.  I didn't have a home address on him."

Achane's lawyers deny that, saying he was paying Bland's bills, and wanted to take care of their unborn daughter.

"The judge heard [Bland'] story, and completely ruled against her.  He did not find that her story was credible," Wiser said.

Bland now says that she wants what she thinks is best for the baby.

"My heart was comfortable with her being with the Freis," she said.  "I'd rather see her with me struggling first before she goes with him."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Judge Orders Adopted Baby Returned to Father, Couple Plans to Appeal Ruling

Hemera/Thinkstock(AMERICAN FORK, Utah) -- A judge has ordered a Utah couple to return their adopted toddler to her biological father after it was revealed that his wife gave up the child without the father's knowledge or permission.

The couple, Jared and Kristi Frei, now has 60 days to return the 21-month-old girl to her father Terry Achane, a U.S. Army drill instructor. But the Freis' lawyer told ABC News that they will not give up the girl, whom they call Leah, and will appeal the judge's ruling.

"They believe the district court made some fundamental errors in its decision and they will raise those with the appropriate appellate court. Yes, they will appeal," their lawyer Larry Jenkins told ABC News.

Achane, 31, was stationed in South Carolina on March 21, 2011, when his estranged wife gave birth in Utah and immediately turned the baby over for adoption.


Achane is now thrilled with the judge's ruling and the prospect that he will be united with his baby.

"He is extremely pleased with what [the judge] ordered," his lawyer, Mark Wiser, told ABC News.

Achane initially feared that his wife, Tira Bland, followed through on a threat to have an abortion. It was several weeks after the baby, whom he calls Teleah, was born that he learned the child had been adopted and was in Utah, according to his lawyer.

When Achane contacted the adoption agency who facilitated the baby's placement with the couple, he was stonewalled, denied information and ignored when he told them he had not consented to the adoption, his lawyer claimed.

In his ruling, Judge Darold McDade said he was "astonished and deeply troubled" by the actions of the agency, the Adoption Center of Choice, calling its treatment of Achane "utterly indefensible."

According to Achane, Bland gave the agency Achane's old address in Texas where he lived prior to being stationed in South Carolina, and suggested he would not consent to the adoption. The agency attempted to contact him once in Texas, but seems not to have made any other efforts to receive his consent, Wiser said.

"Because there is ongoing litigation, we cannot comment at this time," the agency told ABC News.

Achane knew Bland was pregnant and had taken her to prenatal doctor appointments in Texas, but Bland cut off all contact with him following his deployment to South Carolina and made arrangements for the adoption in secret, Wiser said.

The Freis have maintained a blog about the case where they claim that Achane "left [Bland] without any money, a car, or details of his whereabouts. Needing to act quickly for the best interest of her unborn child, and with incredible faith, fortitude, and courage, she put her child up for adoption."

In 2008, Kristi Frei was diagnosed with endometriosis and told she would not be able to conceive, according to the blog.

The Freis insist that it was they who tracked down Achane "several months" after adopting the baby, but to "our great shock and dismay" he refused to consent to the adoption.

The judge said in his ruling, however, that the couple knew that Achane had never been consulted and "acknowledged this risk but decided they wanted to proceed forward with the adoptive placement anyway."

According to their blog, the couple has raised more than $20,000 to pay for legal fees.

ABC News was unable to reach Bland for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Utah Doctor Charged with Drowning, Drugging Wife Will Face Trial

Hemera/Thinkstock(PROVO, Utah) -- A Utah judge has decided that a once prominent doctor who was recently freed from prison for identity fraud will now stand trial for the murder of his wife, calling his actions surrounding her death "evidence of a guilty mind."

Martin MacNeill, 57, a doctor and former Mormon Sunday school teacher, served three years in a Texas federal prison for fraud and was released in July.  Last month, MacNeill was arrested on murder charges -- the warrant alleging that he "intentionally overdosed" his wife, Michele MacNeill, after she had plastic surgery, because she had approached him about his alleged affair.

In a Provo, Utah, courtroom on Wednesday, all eyes were on Gypsy Willis, the woman who moved into the family's home as a nanny for his youngest daughter two weeks after Michele's death.  Investigators say a year-long affair with Willis was Martin MacNeill's motive in the murder of his wife.

Willis testified that she met MacNeil online in 2005 and started a sexual relationship one year later.  She also said he provided her with a credit card to help her get through nursing school.  She testified she never thought MacNeill would ever leave his wife for her.

After the death of his wife, MacNeill and Willis were both convicted of identity fraud and served years in prison for stealing the identity of MacNeill's 16-year-old adopted daughter.

"In this case, the motive will sit well with a lot of jurors because it gives them a hook which that they can justify a conviction," Attorney Ronald Richards told ABC News, noting that the state will need to show that there's some conduct on behalf of the defendant that links him to the murder.

In court Thursday, the prosecutor referred to Willis as the "nanny with benefits."

Shortly after her testimony, the judge ordered MacNeill to stand trial for first-degree murder, calling his actions surrounding his wife's death "evidence of a guilty mind."

An initial autopsy report stated Michele MacNeill died of natural causes.  However, authorities now believe Martin MacNeill drugged and drowned his wife, who was found unconscious in the bathtub.

MacNeill's frantic 911 call five years ago seems to indicate that he tried to save his wife after she drowned.

Susanne Gustin, MacNeill's defense attorney, says that he's no killer.  "He's done some bad things in his life, but does that mean he's a murderer?  No," she said.

MacNeill is expected to enter pleas to the murder charges on Oct. 22, at which time a trial date could be set.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Football Coach Charged After Allegedly Flooring Opposing Player

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- A youth football halfback in Utah was headed for a touchdown this past Saturday that would have broken a tie in one of the last games of the season.

At that moment, the opposing team's volunteer coach allegedly stepped onto the field in Payson City, Utah, and struck the 13-year-old player down -- leading to the coach's arrest.

"What I saw was the Payson player running toward the Mapleton sideline," said the game referee, David Durrant.  "What I saw was the Mapleton coach didn't even try to move.  He just raised his arms and hit him with his forearms, is what it looked like."

Durrant threw a yellow flag.  At that point, Nathan Harris, the assistant coach for the Mapleton City's football team, was thrown out of the game.

Harris was arrested that following Monday by Payson police.  The father of six now faces a second-degree felony child abuse charge over the allegation that he hit the seventh grade football player -- a charge that is punishable by as many as 15 years in prison.

"From watching the video [of the game] several times and having other people, such as the county attorney, [watch], and putting together witness statements," said Det. Sgt. Lance Smith of the Payson Police Department, it looked like "the Payson player was running down the sideline and the male individual who was assisting the coaching team struck the boy in the chin with his forearm and backed away and declined to offer any assistance to the boy."

An overwhelming majority of officials from the City of Payson seemed to believe that Harris was in the wrong.  However, Harris' attorneys claimed possible bias in the story.

"Local law enforcement did a shoddy investigation and are interviewing hometown fans," said one of Harris' attorneys, Rhome Zabriskie.  "The video released by law enforcement seems to be doctored and edited.  Conveniently, the video cuts off right after the boy hits the ground giving the impression that the boy gets knocked out."

According to Durrant, "The player got up and went to his own sideline," after his fall and went to the hospital after the game, which Payson City's football team won with a field goal in overtime.

The young football player has since been diagnosed with a concussion because of the run-in with Harris, reported ABC News' Salt Lake City affiliate, KTVX-TV.

"Mr. Harris felt bad that the boy is hurt," said Zabriskie.  "At the same time, he had no time to react.  He had his two little boys standing behind him and no time to react."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Utah Couple Gets Engaged on Popular Amusement Ride

Courtesy Kurt Adams(ROY, Utah) -- This happy couple was certainly high on love this past Saturday.

Kurt Adams, 25, of Roy, Utah, had been planning his unique wedding proposal for two weeks prior to actually popping the question Saturday.

Adams proposed to his girlfriend of nine months, Susan Hamilton, 21, of Loa, Utah, by strategically placing his sister and a few friends from work on the “Sky Ride” at Lagoon Amusement Park so they could pass by in the opposite direction, each holding signs spelling out the most important question of his life, “Susan, Will You Marry Me?”

“I just wanted to do something I didn’t think was done by someone else,” Adams told ABC News. “My original plan was to be up on the ride with the sign holders on the ground. But a lady at work suggested having the riders come the opposite direction on the ride with the signs, and that was 100 times better than the original idea.

“As the sign with her name passed, she turned and said, ‘Hey, my name’s Susan,’” Adams added. “She had no idea it was relevant to her. She almost missed the second sign.”

Hamilton was too busy chatting with the people holding the “Susan” sign, trying to find out it’s relevance, to notice the other corresponding signs coming in her direction. But Adams focused her attention just in time.

“When she saw the rest of them, I had the ring folded up in a piece of paper with a question mark in a little bag. My hands were shaking and I thought I was going to drop the ring,” said Adams. “She pulled the ring out and looked at the question mark, and I said, ‘Should we make this official?’ And she said, ‘You gotta put it on my hand first.’”

Once Adams slipped the ring on her finger to make the engagement official, she was overcome with emotion.

“She was just like, ‘Oh my heck, I had no idea this was even happening. I’m about to cry,’” Adams said.

However, despite the happy ending, the engagement didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. There were a few technical difficulties leading up to the magical moment.

“I didn’t have a plan B in case the ride was closed,” Adams said. “I didn’t know what I would do if that was the case. And the people who had the signs ended up being late because their son was hurt in a Little League football game, so I was just wandering around the park. … Oh, and a kid got his finger pinched in the guardrail so they had to stop the ride to do an accident report.”

Adams joked, “The ring was burning a hole in my pocket. They stopped the ride about four or five times. It was like 20 minutes before the people with the signs passed.”

All’s well that ends well, and the happy couple has a wedding date set for Dec. 14.


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio