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Salt Lake City doctor accused of killing ex-wife pleads not guilty

Published October 21, 2013 9:13 am

Courts • Defense attorneys call the state's case regarding the 2011 death shaky at best.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The Utah pediatrician accused of killing his ex-wife in her Salt Lake City home two years ago pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and burglary charges.

The plea was a long time coming.

John Brickman Wall, who stood before a judge Monday morning flanked by his two defense attorneys, has maintained his innocence in the case since his April arrest.

"Your honor," Wall said to 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg. "I am not guilty."

Wall, 49, is charged with first-degree felony counts of aggravated burglary and murder — crimes for which he could be sentenced to up to life in prison.

Prosecutors have pointed to inconsistencies in Wall's alibi for the night Uta von Schwedler drowned in her bathtub, a raging custody battle and Wall's access to Xanax — which von Schwedler, who had not been taking the drug, had a lethal dose of in her system when she died.

Wall was seen by several witnesses at odd times doing odd things around the time von Schwedler likely died — such as moving a garbage can by his home at 1 a.m. after he told officers he had slept the entire night outside, prosecutors said.

At a preliminary hearing earlier this month, prosecutors highlighted DNA evidence they said proves Wall was in his ex-wife's home. There was blood on the bed and signs of a struggle. Detectives testified that there was evidence the crime scene had been cleaned up.

But defense attorneys said the state's case is shaky at best.

"There is reasonable doubt," defense attorney Fred Metos told a group of reporters after Monday's hearing. "The evidence raises a lot of questions, especially with the medical examiner's testimony."

The state medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on von Schwedler, was not able to conclusively rule her death a homicide or a suicide. Officially, her manner of death was "undetermined."

Metos has said this evidence is crucial in proving his client's innocence.

"Their reliance on this evidence is marginal at best," Metos said Monday.

Von Schwedler, 49, was found dead in the bathtub of her home Sept. 27, 2011. She was an AIDS researcher at the University of Utah and a mother of four.

Nils Abramson, who was von Schwedler's boyfriend at the time of her death, discovered her body in a tub full of ice-cold water with a photo album floating near her feet and a knife underneath her body.

The wounds, defense attorneys argued during the preliminary hearing, could have been self-inflicted and do not offer conclusive proof of murder.

Metos has also criticized the DNA evidence as false proof and said the DNA found could have also belonged to either of von Schwedler's sons.

In the aftermath of von Schwedler's death, Wall was seen with scratch marks to his left eye, forearms and ankle.

Prosecutors claim the marks were from von Schwedler fighting back as Wall killed her. But Wall has said he suffered red marks from working in his rose garden and being scratched by his black Labrador, Molly.

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

There are no plea negotiations underway.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @marissa_jae