Utah doctor who allegedly killed ex-wife appears in court
The doctor was led into the Salt Lake City courtroom in chains. Wild-eyed and unkempt, he looked unsure as he turned his head to meet the gaze of his 19-year-old son seated in the gallery.
Pelle Wall did not flinch.
It was the day the teenager had long waited for the day his father was brought to court on charges of killing his mother.
John Brickman Wall, 49, made his first appearance Tuesday in 3rd District Court on first-degree felony counts of murder and aggravated burglary in the alleged 2011 slaying of his ex-wife, University of Utah scientist Uta von Schwedler.
Standing before a courtroom filled with media, attorneys and von Schwedler's family and friends, John Wall declined to hear the allegations against him read aloud in court.
Defense attorney Fred Metos later said that John Wall intends to plead not guilty to all charges.
Von Schwedler, 49, drowned in the bathtub of her Sugar House home on Sept. 27, 2011.
Authorities have struggled to determine whether the woman's death was murder or suicide. But expert analysis of the crime scene has revealed a violent struggle and Wall's DNA in the home, which he did not share with his ex-wife, according to charging documents filed last week.
Von Schwedler and John Wall had a heated and contentious divorce in 2006 that led to years of custody battles over their four children. Prosecutors point to statements Wall allegedly made to friends "it would be all right if Uta wasn't around anymore" as a motive for murder.
But Metos said Wall had been prevailing in the custody struggle. He added the evidence in the case is loose and circumstantial, based solely on forensic analysis.
"Whatever motive they're attaching this case to," Metos said, "it doesn't exist."
Von Schwedler was found dead by her boyfriend, Nils Abramson, in an overflowing bathtub of ice-cold water with a scrapbook lying on top of her and a knife under her body. She was nearly naked, only wearing shorts, and there was blood in her bedroom, at the edge of the bathroom sink and on a window sill, according to an autopsy report.
The woman had cuts on her left wrist and leg and injury to her throat, as well as a potentially lethal dose of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax in her system. She did not have a prescription for the drug, charging documents state.
Charges allege Wall had written and filled a prescription for his mother for 30 Xanax tablets in May 2011, though there was no documentation indicating he was treating his mother medically.
Wall, a local pediatrician, remains at the Salt Lake County jail in lieu of $1.5 million, cash-only bail.
A scheduling hearing was set for May 13 before 3rd District Judge Robin Reese, at which time bail may be addressed.
Earlier Tuesday, Pelle Wall's attorney, Margaret Olson, filed a request under Utah's Rights of Crime Victims Act requesting that the teen be allowed to address the court "on issues relating to whether to release" the defendant.
Nearly a dozen news organizations crowded the hallway outside the courtroom Tuesday as the family exited, huddled tight around Pelle Wall, the couple's oldest of four children.
Pelle Wall has garnered the interest of local and national media over his staunch belief that his father is guilty of his mother's alleged murder and his push to remove his younger siblings from his father's care.
He spoke only briefly after his father's hearing before being ushered away from the media mob.
"I want to express great gratitude and relief that this date has finally come," the teen said. "I'm looking forward to a swift prosecution and, ultimately, justice for my mother."
Last April, Pelle Wall filed a petition in 3rd District Juvenile Court aimed at removing his three younger siblings from their father's custody. In June, the court and family reached an agreement that removed the children then ages 16, 13 and 11 from John Wall's home.
In December, the son filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his father.
Two months later, the younger children were returned to John Wall by Juvenile Judge Charles Behrens. Since their father's arrest, the children have been staying with relatives.
"These children have just lost two parents," said attorney Rebecca Hyde Skordas, who spoke for the von Schwedler family. "Pelle has had to grow up very quickly, under circumstances that are unimaginable."
If convicted of either charge, Wall could spend up to life in prison.
"It's a little surreal that we're finally here," said Abramson, who was dating von Schwedler at the time of her death. "But I'm glad we're on the road to justice. ... Eventually, I would like closure."