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Trial set for Utah doctor accused of killing wife

First Published Jul 29 2014 01:27PM      Last Updated Jul 29 2014 10:01 pm

John Brickman Wall, a Salt Lake City pediatrician awaiting trial on murder in his ex-wife's death, looks at his attorney Fred Metos, left, during his appearance in court Friday, May 9, 2014, in Salt Lake City. A Salt Lake City police officer says a pediatrician accused of killing his ex-wife seemed surprised that he was not arrested the night her body was found. Walls attorney Fred Metos argues his client's statements to police should not be allowed at an upcoming murder trial because they were made under "psychological and physical coercion" by the detectives. A judge is not expected to rule on the statements until additional police testimony can be heard next week. Wall has pleaded not guilty to murder. No trial date has been set. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)

A Utah pediatrician accused of killing his ex-wife and leaving her dead in her bathtub will stand trial in February.

The four-week jury trial scheduled for John Brickman Wall has been set, a judge assigned. But one question remains:

Will jurors be allowed to hear the doctor’s taped police interview?

Wall’s attorney has alleged that police badgered, intimidated and manipulated his client into making incriminating statements under duress.

Prosecutors, who filed a written response motion last week, claim Wall was level-headed and calm during the three-hour interview, during which he was given breaks, water and a magazine to pass the time while detectives were out of the room. He was not handcuffed. The interview room was not locked. He was read his rights.

"The interview was, for the vast majority of the time, held in a calm, rational, conversational tone," wrote Salt Lake County prosecutor Matt Janzen. "Detectives elevated their voices only at the last part of the interview — lasting 6 minutes the first time and 1 minute the second time. There were no threats made. There were no promises of either more severe punishment or greater leniency if he confessed. None of these factors led to a coercive environment."

For months, Wall’s attorneys have been trying to get the court to suppress everything the former pediatrician said to detectives on Sept. 27, 2011 — just hours after Wall’s ex-wife, Uta von Schwedler’s body was found inside her Salt Lake City home.

Wall’s interrogation lasted from about 11:30 that night until about 2:20 a.m., according to prosecutors. Defense attorney G. Fred Metos has said the exchange between Wall and the investigators "grew very heated," and Wall, among other things, discussed being diagnosed with depression and self-medicating with Lexapro and Trazodone.

He was emotional, frightened and confused, Metos has argued.

He also was duped by detectives into repeating the ideas they planted in his mind, Metos said — that Wall was a monster, a killer.

Wall, 50, is charged with first-degree felony charges of murder and aggravated burglary. He has pleaded not guilty.

Third District Judge Denise Lindberg will issue a written ruling on the question of the police interview by early September. Judge James Blanch will preside over Wall’s trial early next year.

When the 2011 interrogation ended, court documents claim, police dropped Wall off near his home and told him to walk the rest of the way.

When Wall arrived home, he was distraught, witnesses testified at an October preliminary hearing. He told his children that their mother was dead and the police believed he did it. Later, the mother of one of his children’s friends came to the home and found him lying on the bed. Court documents quote Wall as telling the woman that "only a monster would do these things" and that he didn’t know if he had killed von Schwedler.

Wall’s attorney also seeks to suppress the statements Wall made at his home after the interrogation.

Wall was charged in April 2013, more than a year and a half after von Schwedler’s death.

At an the preliminary hearing, a medical examiner testified that the case wasn’t clear: the wounds von Schwedler suffered may have been caused by another person — making this case a homicide — or, they may have been caused by herself in a suicide.

The 49-year-old University of Utah scientist 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.



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