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Lawyers for a Salt Lake City pediatrician accused of killing his ex-wife asked a judge Monday to toss DNA evidence gathered from skin cells found underneath her fingernails and on a pillowcase.
An attorney for John Brickman Wall, 50, said investigators found about three skin cells not enough to draw any conclusions. A prosecutor conceded the evidence doesn't point directly to Wall, but said it does eliminate nine other possible suspects.
The DNA on the pillowcase could have come from any one of the couple's four children, according to Elizabeth Johnson, an expert testifying for the defense during a hearing Monday who said her calculations show it didn't come from Wall. Prosecutors disputed that.
The DNA is a key piece of evidence in the case, which was filed more than a year after the death of 49-year-old Uta Von Schwedler, a biologist at the University of Utah.
"This case is a huge circumstantial case," said defense attorney G. Fred Metos. "It's not the only piece of evidence they're going to rely on, but it's certainly very important."
A medical examiner couldn't say if Von Schwedler's death was a homicide or a suicide. She was found drowned in an overflowing bathtub in 2011, having overdosed on Xanax, a drug she didn't have a prescription for.
Von Schwedler was in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband over their four children. There was evidence of a struggle in her room, and she had cuts on her body, authorities said.
Police called the death suspicious, but friends and family worried the investigation had gone cold before Wall's arrest last summer. Their eldest son, Pelle Wall, then 19, fueled speculation by saying he believed his father did it.
Pelle Wall didn't attend Monday's hearing. John Wall was present, wearing a dark blue jail jumpsuit, watching the proceedings closely and speaking with his attorney.
Prosecutors said in charging documents the DNA under the fingernails didn't exclude Wall, and DNA on pillowcase belonged to him.
"This case just has a million pieces to it, and it's all about the pieces," said prosecutor Matthew Janzen.
Investigators also found evidence that Wall wrote a prescription for Xanax for his mother shortly before his ex-wife's death. He told police he didn't remember where he was the night of his wife's death, and referred to himself as a monster when he was released.
Defense attorneys wanted those statements thrown out as well, saying they were made under coercion. But a judge refused to leave that evidence out of the case, ruling that he didn't confess to the crime and wasn't coerced in a decision filed Friday.
Wall has pleaded not guilty to murder and aggravated burglary charges. He is scheduled to go on trial in February. No deadline was immediately set for Judge James Blach to rule whether DNA evidence will be admitted.