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Martin MacNeill Trial: Expert Witness Says Utah Doctor’s Wife Died of Drowning

ABC News(PROVO, Utah) -- Though her husband is on trial for her murder, a cause of death has never been determined for Michele MacNeill. A noted forensic pathologist and toxicologist testified Friday that he believes the former beauty queen died as a result of drowning.

Dr. Joshua Perper, a retired medical examiner who was called as an expert witness at the murder trial of Dr. Martin MacNeill, said that not only did he believe the mother of eight was drowned, but drugs could have also played a role in her April 11, 2007 death.

"It was clear she was inhaling a significant amount of water," Perper said.

He said the report that MacNeill regurgitated more than seven cups of water during the resuscitation process also played a role in helping him reach his conclusion.

"In addition, she had some drugs on board [that] in my opinion, could have contributed to her death," he said.

Dr. Martin MacNeill, 57, is on trial for the April 11, 2007, death of his wife, Michele MacNeill, 50. Prosecutors allege MacNeill persuaded his wife to have plastic surgery so he could dope her up during her recovery and then drown her -- all so he could pursue a relationship with a mistress, Gypsy Willis.

MacNeill's defense lawyers said heart problems were a contributing factor in her death. Perper said his review of MacNeill's case found no evidence that she died of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart.

Utah State Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Todd Grey testified on Thursday that a drowning scenario was possible.

Dr. Maureen Frikke, a former assistant medical examiner who died in 2008, certified that MacNeill died of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and inflammation of the heart. That report was amended after Grey reviewed the case after Frikke's death and changed the ruling to "undeterminable."

Despite the amended report, Grey told the court, "I did not feel I could reach a conclusion of homicide."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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