Investigation • SLC cops struggled to figure out if it was a suicide or homicide.
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The ex-husband of a woman found dead in her Sugar House area home in September 2011 was arrested Thursday morning and charged with murder.
John Brickman Wall a 49-year-old Salt Lake City pediatrician is charged in 3rd District Court with first-degree felony counts of murder and aggravated burglary for the death of 49-year-old Uta Von Schwedler.
Von Schwedler, a University of Utah biologist, was found drowned in the bathtub at her home, in the 1400 block of Harrison Avenue (1365 South). Authorities have struggled for months to determine whether the woman's death on Sept. 27, 2011, was murder or suicide.
But expert analysis of evidence found at the scene reveal traces of a violent struggle and Wall's DNA in the home, which he did not share with his ex-wife, according to charging documents. Police have ruled out suicide, the documents state, because von Schwedler showed no signs of depressed or suicidal behavior prior to her death.
Wall was stopped by police Thursday morning as he drove near his home, located near 700 South and 1200 East, said Wall's attorney Fred Metos.
"At this point, Dr. Wall is presumed innocent and we're going to proceed as we normally would, and the first step is to find out what information they have," Metos said. "I have not seen all the police reports and certainly haven't seen whatever new evidence has been developed that resulted in them filing charges."
Metos said he met with Wall at the police department Thursday morning.
Wall is scheduled to make a first appearance in court on Tuesday. His bail has been set at $1.5 million, cash-only.
A murder conviction carries a potential prison term of 15 years to life; an aggravated burglary conviction carries a potential prison term of 5 years to life.
"The arrest of John Wall for the murder of Uta von Schwedler is a long-awaited moment for those who loved Uta in their quest for justice," Margaret Olson, an attorney for the couple's 19-year-old son Pelle Wall, said in a statement. "We are confident ... justice will ultimately be served."
The teen has long-maintained that he believes his mother was killed by his father.
Von Schwedler and John Wall had been ensnared in a bitter custody battle since their divorce in 2006. Just prior to von Schwedler's death, she had prevailed in a motion related to reconsideration of custody.
According to charges, Wall had told various people that von Schwedler was "ruining good things in his life and/or that she was to blame for his problems." He told a friend, "it would be all right if Uta wasn't around anymore," the documents state.
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 medical examiner has not determined if von Schwedler's death was a homicide or suicide, but found the cause of death to be drowning.
The woman 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.
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.
Following von Schwedler's death, police served a warrant to search Wall's car and house. They found Wall had scratches on his forearms and one of his eyes was bleeding internally when police officers spoke to him after his ex-wife's death, according to documents. Wall explained that "the dog stepped on him" the previous night. Charging documents state DNA found under one of von Schwedler's fingernails "could not rule out" Wall as the source.
Last April, Pelle Wall filed a petition in 3rd District Juvenile Court aimed at removing his three younger siblings from this father's custody. In June, the court and family reached an agreement that removed the children then ages 16, 13 and 11 from Wall's home.
But Juvenile Judge Charles Behrens issued a ruling in February that returned the youngest two children to their father.
In December, Pelle Wall filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his father.
The lawsuit states that John Wall "had the motive, opportunity, intent, ability and the stated desire to end Uta von Schwedler's life." It also states that Wall had premeditated the death of his ex-wife and requests a jury trial where monetary damages will be proven for the four children, along with punitive damages and the cost incurred by legal fees.
Police on May 9 impounded Wall's 2010 Subaru Impreza to search it for von Schwedler's blood and possible DNA evidence for a second time in seven months. Police took carpet from the rear left side of the car and also seized a rear seat cushion, according to the search warrant affidavit.
The affidavit says that a day after von Schwedler was found dead, officers did a visual search of Wall's car but found no trace evidence. Police also searched Wall's home for any bloody clothes or evidence of a homicide but found none, the affidavit says.
The elder Wall who had picked up the couple's four children at von Schwedler's home on Sept. 26 told police he did not recall if he returned to her home later that night, which was the night she died.
When detectives asked him where he was that night, Wall yelled, "I don't know where the f- I was," according to the affidavit.
Wall also told police he had his car cleaned at about 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 27 before going to work. A car wash employee later told police that Wall's car was already clean and didn't need a full detailing. He also said he remembered Wall because the man was "agitated and acted strangely," the affidavit says.
Wall had pointed out a 3-by-6-inch pink-colored stain on the carpet behind the driver's seat and asked the employee to give the stain special attention, according to the affidavit. The employee told police he also noticed a stain on the seat cushion just above the carpet stain.
Wall then went to work at his pediatric office, where co-workers advised him to obtain medical attention for his injured eye. Wall visited an eye doctor in the medical tower, then went home for the rest of the day, the affidavit says.
Witnesses told police that when Wall returned home following his police interview, he was "upset, mentally unstable and threatening suicide," the affidavit says.
Before he was taken to a mental health facility, Wall told a witness that whoever had killed von Schwedler was a "monster," and he added, "If it was me, I don't remember," the affidavit says.
According to the medical examiner's report, there were sharp force injuries to the woman's left wrist and left leg and states that the wounds "are not typical of self-inflicted wounds seen in the setting of a suicide." The wounds could be viewed as defensive injuries if the woman had been struggling with an assailant, according to the report.
Detectives found a "substantial amount" of the woman's blood on the comforter, according to the search warrant affidavit.
Pelle Wall has told The Tribune that the last time he saw his mother alive, his father had picked up him and his siblings from her house on Sept. 26. When von Schwedler tried to talk to Wall about their ongoing custody dispute, he rolled up the window and drove away. Pelle Wall has said that a year prior to his mother's death, his dad had told the children that his life would be "better if he never saw Uta again," documents state.
Tribune reporter Brooke Adams contributed to this story.