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Judge refuses to lower bail for Utah doctor accused of killing ex-wife

Published June 22, 2013 10:59 am

Judge cites testimony from John Wall's son, who says he fears for his family's safety.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

John Brickman Wall — who is accused of killing his ex-wife at her Sugar House area home — failed on Friday to convince a judge to reduce his $1.5 million cash-only bail.

Third District Judge Denise Lindberg kept the bail amount as is after hearing from several witnesses, including the defendant's son.

Lindberg said she found Wall to be a flight risk because he is no longer employed, relationships with his children have been severed and he has no other family in Utah. While Wall, 49, did not flee during the investigation into Uta von Schwedler's death, being charged with murder "does raise dramatically the risk of flight," she said.

The judge said she found persuasive testimony from Pelle Wall, 19, the couple's oldest son, and others about fears for their own safety.

"Doctor Wall has used his communications with his children or appears to use his communications with his children with a preoccupation on his own well being rather than that of his children," Lindberg said.

Pelle Wall said after the hearing he was "thrilled" with the outcome, calling it "necessary and appropriate."

Defense attorney Fred Metos had asked Lindberg to reduce Wall's bail to $100,000. He claimed his client is no threat and can be safely monitored through a GPS ankle monitor, home confinement and a curfew to ensure he does not flee the state.

Wall, a Salt Lake City pediatrician, is charged with first-degree felony murder and aggravated burglary. He was arrested in April and is being held in the Salt Lake County jail. If convicted of either charge, Wall could face up to life in prison. A preliminary hearing in the case is set for October.

Von Schwedler, 49, was found dead in the overflowing bathtub of her Sugar House home on Sept. 27, 2011. A scrapbook was lying on top of her and a knife was later found under her body. Blood was found in her bedroom, at the edge of the bathroom sink and on a window sill, according to court documents. Von Schwedler, a scientist at the University of Utah, had on only shorts and had cuts on her left wrist and leg and an injury to her throat; the medical examiner later found a potentially lethal dose of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax in her system, though von Schwedler did not have a prescription for the drug.

For months, authorities struggled to determine whether the woman's death was a murder or suicide. Prosecutors filed murder charges on April 25, after expert analysis of the crime scene revealed a violent struggle and Wall's DNA in the home, which he did not share with his ex-wife.

Pelle Wall has contended in court documents that his father is a violent, vindictive man who poses a threat to Pelle and his three younger siblings, if released from jail. He called family and friends "walking targets" on Friday, speaking directly and calmly as he described his father's behavior in the month before and then after his mother's death, and how he quickly came to feel unsafe around his father. John Wall stared intently as his son described how he learned about his mother's death.

Pelle Wall said his father and three younger siblings came into his bedroom as he prepared to leave for school and said, "Uta is dead and they think I did it."

"He said things along the lines of 'Only a monster could have done this, what if I'm a monster, what if I did this and I don't remember,'" Pelle Wall said, adding that his father was curled in a fetal position on his bed, crying, as the children tried to comfort him. Asked by prosecutor Anna Rossi if John Wall offered his children any support, Pelle Wall responded, "Absolutely none."

As he questioned Pelle Wall, Metos pointed out that police who interviewed Wall immediately after the death suggested that he might have done it and might not remember his acts.

Pelle Wall moved out of his father's home in January 2012 — the morning after his father confronted him about what he knew about his mother's death and whom he had spoken to about it.

"If I [had] indicated I felt he was responsible for my mother's death, I thought my life might be in danger," he said.

Pelle Wall also read a statement expressing his strong belief that his father killed his mother.

"He had the motive, he had the means, and he had the opportunity to do so," Pelle Wall said. "I have seen the blind hatred he harbored for my mother."

"I expected that hatred to die with its object, but to my amazement, it only moved," Pelle Wall said. "It spread. The irrational hate and loathing and mistrust my father once held for my mother began to spread to my friends, my mother's friends, my siblings' friends, and their families. It spread to my mother's family, to my now adoptive family, to my siblings, and to me."

"My father has demonstrated the ability and the willingness to kill his enemy, and no GPS ankle monitor ... or loss of a bail bond will be able to prevent that," he said.

Earlier this month a 3rd District Court juvenile judge removed the three minor children — ages 16, 14 and 12 — from John Wall's custody.

Amy Oglesby, a family friend who adopted Pelle Wall after his mother's death, told the judge that John Wall threatened her last summer as they gathered at Salt Lake City International Airport to greet a younger sibling who was returning from a trip abroad. She said John Wall swore at her, accused Oglesby of "damaging me" and demanded she stay away from his family. On their way home from the airport, Oglesby and Pelle Wall made an impromptu stop at a Jamba Juice store, where John Wall also suddenly appeared and again confronted her.

"I took what he did to me as a direct threat on my life," Oglesby said.

Lindberg said Oglesby's testimony was particularly disturbing because the "only plausible explanation" was that John Wall had followed them to the store, indicating his instability.

In other testimony, Salt Lake police Detective Cordon Parks described the couple's 2006 divorce as "acrimonious" and described a May 2007 incident in which von Schwedler was working in a flower bed along her driveway when Wall pulled in and nearly hit her and then attempted to kick his ex-wife; no charges were filed in the incident, Parks said.

Parks said the contention escalated in the week before von Schwedler's death. The detective said von Schwedler wanted sole custody of their children; she filed a court document on Sept. 21, 2011, seeking the appointment of a child custody evaluator. But Metos has said that Wall was prevailing in the custody fight and had no reason to hurt von Schwedler.

Metos also asked Parks about Wall's statement, made in a deposition taken for the wrongful death lawsuit filed by his son, that von Schwedler came to his home uninvited the night she died. Wall said he was awakened by his dog and had found his ex-wife in his garage. When he followed her out, she swung at his face and then left, Metos said.

Pressed about whether von Schwedler could have cut herself with a knife, Parks said he had "never seen self-inflicted wounds like that."

brooke@sltrib.com