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Lawyer for Utah doctor accused of killing ex-wife says cops lied to, pressured client to make incriminating statements

Published May 9, 2014 1:46 pm

Courts • The defense is seeking to suppress defendant's statements to police, friends.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

John Brickman Wall's defender prodded a police detective Friday about tactics used in questioning the Salt Lake City doctor in connection with the death of his ex-wife, Uta von Schwedler.

"The (U.S.) Supreme Court allows police officers to lie to suspects when they're interviewed," attorney G. Fred Metos said. "But the state Supreme Court has said sometimes the lies go too far."

Metos says that's what happened to Wall when police elicited "somewhat incriminating" statements from him in the wake of von Schwedler's 2011 death. Wall's attorneys want those statements suppressed when Wall, 50, is tried on first-degree felony charges of murder and aggravated burglary.

On Friday, Judge Denise Lindberg heard testimony from Salt Lake City police Detective Tracy Ita, one of two detectives who questioned Wall for several hours starting Sept. 27, 2011, the same night von Schwedler's boyfriend discovered her body in the bathtub of her Sugar House home.

When he went to Wall's house that night, Ita recalled being surprised that Wall agreed to go to the police station for questioning without ever asking what he would be questioned about.

"That seemed a little weird at the time," Ita said.

At the station, Wall appeared to be coherent throughout the interview, during which Wall answered most of the detectives' questions saying he didn't know or didn't remember what had happened, Ita said — statements Metos argues were made under "psychological and physical coercion." Metos pointed to interview transcripts that showed Ita buttressing Wall's claims of memory loss, telling Wall that he could "guarantee" that violent behavior and memory lapses are side-effects of Lexapro and Trazodone, drugs Wall admitted to prescribing to himself for depression.

"You were saying he could hurt somebody and not even remember doing it [because of the drugs]," Metos said to Ita. "That was a lie, right?"

Ita conceded he had no expertise on those drugs but later noted that he knew Wall could evaluate any claims about them as a doctor.

Ita also challenged Metos' claim that he and Detective Michael Hardin yelled at Wall during the interview, instead describing their tone as "raised voices."

Metos after the hearing maintained that the interview was overly manipulative.

"They yelled at him, lied to him, acted like his friends," Metos said.

Several of the misrepresentations Metos pointed to allegedly were made by Hardin, who was sick and couldn't attend the hearing. He is expected to testify Tuesday. Metos said Wall was told a witness had seen him leave the house and that his DNA was found under von Schwedler's fingernails.

After the interview, Ita said, Wall "seemed shocked" that he was going to be taken back home.

"He said in a shocked voice, 'So you're not taking me to jail? ... But I'm a monster,'" Ita said.

Wall was charged more than a year later. A medical examiner has determined that von Schwedler died from drowning. 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, charging documents 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.

"Whatever motive they're attaching this case to," Metos said, "it doesn't exist."

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.

In June last year, 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.