You know you’ve got a great murder trial when the defense attorney asks a witness if the victim was wearing her garments. (For the record, she was not.) Like many television viewers around the world, I have been glued to the boob tube, totally engrossed in the trial, “live from Utah,” of Dr. Martin MacNeill, who is accused of murdering his wife so he could marry his mistress, a busty gal with the wonderful name of Gypsy.
The MacNeill trial comes hard on the heels of another spicy murder trial with crowd-pleasing Mormon motifs. I am referring, of course, to the trial—and subsequent conviction—of the appalling Jodi Arias, who, prior to the bloody bludgeoning of her former boyfriend, was planning a temple wedding with the unfortunate former beau.
You know that Mormons have gone mainstream when the defense attorney’s question about garments does not elicit further queries as to what sort of garments are involved. By now, and largely thanks to the ill-fated presidential campaign of former Mormon bishop Mitt Romney, the world knows that “garments” refers to sacred Mormon underwear. Furthermore, no one bats an eye when we hear from the prosecutor that the murder suspect makes a point of announcing to the paramedics trying to resuscitate his wife that he is a bishop. Not only that, but he pays his tithing, and now his wife has gone and repaid him by getting a facelift and dying on him.
All this Mormon stuff certainly adds a lot of juice to the trial. But even without the Mormon angle, the trial is a perfect courtroom drama for all the TV monkeys like Nancy Grace. Headline News Network (HLN), channel 42 on my dial, bills the trial as “The Doctor, the Beauty Queen and the Mistress.” Tune in every night at six o’clock and catch full coverage of Nancy and company going nuts against the telegenic backdrop of Mount Timpanogos.
You have to admit that all the elements are in place. The dramatis personae are perfectly cast. Sitting at the defense table is the bespectacled Doctor, his features chiseled and his demeanor somber. Next to him is the sultry Defense Attorney, blond and business-like and wearing gold hoop earrings. Assistant counsel for the defense is a gawky guy who has the unnerving habit of cross-examining witnesses with a chuckle-toothed grin. Don’t mind me, he seems to say, I’m just a harmless goof. Meanwhile, I’m going to find a way to trip you up when you least expect it.
On the other side of the courtroom are the prosecutors, a rather bland lot whose very blandness gives them the air of reassuring rectitude The Judge is cut from the same cloth, and if you didn’t know otherwise, you might think he is the slightly older brother of the Prosecutor. Both have a recognizable Utah quality of being balding, slow-talking sweet spirits.
The Victim, christened the Beauty Queen by the TV people, is a constant and sad presence. Headline News can’t get enough of her, and gauzy photographs of her and her children are shown onscreen whenever possible.
There are also a lot of photos of the Mistress, a kewpie doll look-alike who, from a casting director’s standpoint, seems too good to be true. Her very name is too “on the nose,” as they say in Hollywood. “I don’t know, Syd,” you can imagine a producer saying, “Gypsy is just too obvious. Why don’t we call her Myrna or something like that?” Avid court-watchers are eagerly hoping that Gypsy, who was given the cover name of “Jillian” by the Doctor, will appear on the witness stand, winking at the jury and claiming to be nothing more than a conscientious nanny.
Naturally, there are the gruesome details, the mucous, the blood, the staring eyes, the body in the tub. Accustomed as we are to the tidy plot points of TV drama, real-life murder trials can seem unnecessarily tedious. There are, for instance, all those disputes about the facts—was the floor wet, was there a bra in the bathroom, did the police come first or the paramedics, was the victim’s skin gray or greenish pale or pale blue or merely slightly discolored?
The only certifiable Perry Mason moment so far in the trial came when the chuckle-toothed defense lawyer played the 911 tape at slow speed, proving that the Doctor had, in fact, given his correct address and thus discrediting a prosecution assertion.
But stay tuned. Even his attorneys admit he’s a bad guy.
D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.