Attorney says cops’ lies should scratch remarks in von Shwedler case
Courts • Defense attorney says suspect was manipulated during interrogation.
Published: June 13, 2014 05:41PM
Updated: July 29, 2014 01:38PM
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Uta Von Schwedler, 49, was found dead in her Sugar House area home in 1400 block of Harrison Avenue (1365 South), on Sept. 27, 2011. Since then Salt Lake City police have quietly been investigating the suspicious death of the biologist and HIV researcher who worked at the University of Utah. The woman was found drowned in the bathtub at her home, but police are still trying to determine if her death was a homicide or suicide. Courtesy: Nils Abramson

The lawyer for homicide suspect John Brickman Wall says detectives’ lies and other interview tactics went too far the night Wall’s ex-wife Uta von Schwedler’s body was found in her bathtub.

“They weren’t being truthful to where they were being coercive,” attorney G. Fred Metos said.

In a hearing Friday, Metos sought to keep statements Wall made to police out of his trial, saying he was manipulated by officers investigating von Schwedler’s 2011 death. It’s the second hearing to determine whether the statements should be admitted at trial. Wall, 50, is charged with first-degree felony charges of murder and aggravated burglary. He has pleaded not guilty.

Judge Denise Lindberg will review written arguments on whether to admit Wall’s interview statements and rule Sept. 15. Then she’ll transfer the case to a new judge. Lindberg’s pending retirement will prevent her from presiding over the trial, which may not occur until 2015.

“Let’s talk about the lies you told,” Metos said to Salt Lake City Police Detective Michael Hardin, who interrogated Wall after von Schwedler’s body was found in a bathtub in her Sugar House home. He pointed to interview transcripts that show Hardin told Wall that police had DNA under the victim’s fingernails and a witness who saw Wall at the scene, neither of which was true.

Wall had been adamant he didn’t recall being at von Schwedler’s house at the time of her death, Metos said.

“After you lie to him, he goes from, ‘I have absolutely no recollection’ to ‘I don’t think I was there,’” Metos said to Hardin.

Hardin said he lied to elicit specific information from Wall, who was being “evasive.”

“He can remember everything about his family life, his school, trips with his family, picking his kids up that day — but he refuses to remember what he did [after] 8 p.m. until the next morning,” Hardin said.

Metos said Hardin and his fellow detective, Tracy Ita, manipulated Wall by shifting postures from confrontational — “yelling ... and calling him a murderer,” Metos said — to friendly.

“I’m always friendly,” Hardin protested.

“You realize you’re under oath, don’t you, Detective Hardin?” Metos asked.

Hardin clarified that his demeanor could be interpreted as friendly in the context of the interview.

Wall was charged more than a year after von Schwedler’s death. A medical examiner has determined that von Schwedler drowned. She 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, charges state.

During a preliminary hearing last year, however, medical examiner Erik Christensen could not rule von Schwedler’s death a homicide. Because it wasn’t clearly a suicide, either, he declared her manner of death “undetermined.”

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 has said that Wall had been prevailing in the custody struggle. He added the evidence in the case is loose and circumstantial, based solely on forensic analysis.

Wall’s son 19-year-old, Pelle Wall, has described his father as dangerous and said he would fear for his safety if Wall were to be released.

ealberty@sltrib.com

Twitter: @erinalberty