SALT LAKE CITY — A day after convicted murderer Martin MacNeill was found dead at the Utah State Prison, his former sister-in-law emphasized she has never doubted that he plotted and carried out his wife's death.
"He is very evil, an evil man, who carefully planned my sister's death," Linda Cluff said. "A jury of our own peers knew this, too, and found him guilty, and an appellate court upheld the conviction."
Cluff recalled MacNeill's "stone-faced" demeanor at trial and a moment when he laughed at her as she read a victim impact statement during his sentencing hearing. When he was sent to prison, Cluff said, she had hoped he would suffer.
MacNeill, 60, was found guilty in 2014 of murdering his wife, 50-year-old Michele MacNeill, seven years earlier. According to investigators, Martin MacNeill pressured his wife into getting a face-lift, then drugged her and drowned her in a bathtub in their Pleasant Grove home to make the death look like an accident.
Investigators claimed MacNeill killed his wife in order to have a life with his mistress, Gypsy Willis, who moved into the MacNeill home days after the death under the pretense of working as the children's nanny.
The case became a true-crime sensation that drew nationwide attention.
Michele MacNeill's death was originally determined to be accidental, but as family members began to question Martin MacNeill's actions after the death and unravel details about his life, they persistently pushed investigators to reopen the case.
MacNeill was serving a sentence of up to life in prison when he was found unresponsive in one of the facility's outdoor yards and was pronounced dead Sunday.
Unified police said Monday there is no evidence of foul play in MacNeill's death, and an investigation into what killed him is ongoing.
When she learned of MacNeill's death Sunday, Cluff said her immediate concern was for her sister's children.
"Initially there was emotional turmoil, mainly over concern on how it would affect his daughters, and also some anger, I guess, because we were hoping that he would spend the rest of his life in prison," Cluff explained. "We feel like this is more of an easy way out."
Now that the initial shock has worn off, the family is looking for a chance to heal, she said.
Cluff said she has been texting MacNeill's daughters, and while she declined to speak on behalf of the women, she expressed their hope that they can now move on and find peace.
While the Department of Corrections has not indicated whether MacNeill's death could have been intentional, his attorney and friend, Randy Spencer, said Sunday he believes MacNeill killed himself.
"He told me when I visited him that living in prison is 'no life,' and that he doesn't wish to live like this," Spencer said of a conversation he had with MacNeill while visiting him a week earlier.
The first possible parole date for MacNeill had been set for August 2052, when he would have been 96 years old.