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Judge hearing evidence alleging Utah doctor killed ex-wife

Published October 1, 2013 10:17 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Prosecutors on Tuesday began presenting evidence in the murder case against John Brickman Wall, the Utah pediatrician accused of killing his ex-wife in her Salt Lake City home two years ago.

The first witness called to the stand during the three-day preliminary hearing was Klaus Fiebig, a college friend of alleged victim Uta von Schwedler. Fiebig said they were roommates in graduate school.

Fiebig testified he was "keen on having [Uta and Johnny] work things out" when the couple's marriage problems began.

After divorce, Uta kept in touch with Fiebig more than with Wall. Fiebig said she asked for advice about how to handle her ex.

The last time Fiebig saw John Wall before his April arrest — in January 2011 — he said his old friend seemed "very much full of hate."

John Wall blamed Uta for "ruining his life," Fiebig said, adding that he asked him: "Would it be bad if Uta wasn't here anymore?"

But when defense attorney Fred Metos pressed Fiebig on Wall's wish that Uta "wasn't around anymore," Fiebig said he thought it was due to a plan to move to California.

Wall, 49, has been charged in 3rd District Court with first-degree felony counts of murder and aggravated burglary.

If convicted of either charge, Wall faces up to the rest of his life in prison.

Metos has said Wall intends to plead not guilty to all charges.

The doctor's ex wife, Uta von Schwedler, 49, was a renown AIDS researcher at the University of Utah. She was found drowned in the bathtub of her Sugar House home on Sept. 27, 2011.

The second witness called was Nils Abramson, von Schwelder's boyfriend, who found her dead in the bathtub inside her home. Nils Abramson said the post-divorce relationship between von Schwedler and Wall was "contentious."

Abramson, a social worker, testified that von Schwedler was not displaying any signs of suicide or depression.

He also said von Schwedler was never prescribed Xanax, although she was found with a potentially lethal dose of the drug in her system after her death, according to charging documents.

Charges allege Wall had written and filled a prescription for his mother for 30 Xanax tablets in May 2011, although there was no documentation indicating he was treating his mother medically.

Authorities initially struggled to determine whether von Schwedler'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.

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 an 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.

At the end of the preliminary hearing, Judge Robin Reese will decide if there is enough evidence to advance the case to trial.

Wall remains behind bars in lieu of a $1.5 million cash-only bail.

In June, Wall signed an agreement with the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, giving up his medical license and his ability to write prescriptions until the murder case is resolved.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae