SALT LAKE CITY – Family and friends of a Utah cancer researcher found dead in her bathtub in 2011 say their search for justice came to an end when a jury convicted her ex-husband of murder.
Salt Lake City pediatrician John Brickman Wall, 51, faces up to life in prison following the verdict delivered Thursday night, after about seven hours of deliberation by five men and three women in the largely circumstantial case.
Prosecutors alleged Wall attacked the 49-year-old Uta von Schwedler with a knife, dosed her with an anti-anxiety drug Xanax and drowned her in her bathtub. Defense attorneys countered that the theory was unbelievable, and it was more likely she killed herself.
As the verdict was read, Wall sat with his hands folded and shoulders bent, staring down and blinking rapidly as a frown deepened on his face. After the verdict was read, his son Pelle Wall spoke in the courthouse backed by more than two dozen supporters.
"Today, after four long weeks in court, justice has prevailed. And for that I'm relieved and grateful beyond words. Now it is time for us to heal," he said.
Von Schwedler's death was initially was treated as a suicide, but Pelle Wall said publicly he thought his father killed his mother as he others pushed for more investigation. John Wall was arrested more than a year after the death.
The victim's sister, Almut von Schwedler, said the Wall children will never be the same, but the verdict is the first step toward closure.
"Revenge was certainly not what drove us in those dark days, and dark and desperate days we had many of," she said.
But the defendant's sister, Wendy Wall, maintained his innocence.
"This verdict will not bring Uta back," she said in a statement, speaking for his sibling and parents. "Now, to that tragedy has been added the conviction of an innocent man."
The evidence in the case was unusual: A medical examiner thought the shallow cuts on von Schwedler's wrists and leg looked like she was defending herself from an attack, but he couldn't explain the fatal level of Xanax in her system.
Forensic experts had very different interpretations of the scene.
For the prosecution, spilled antihistamine pills on the floor, a house in disarray and bloodstains in von Schwedler's bed showed she was attacked. The defense said the home revealed signs of a troubled woman losing a custody battle and trying to calm herself with medication. Lawyer Fred Metos said the case against Wall amounted to speculation and innuendo.
"There is more than a reasonable doubt in this case that this was not murder," he said during closing arguments.
But prosecutors said von Schwedler was winning her push to get more time with her kids, and had made a discovery at work that could help find new treatments childhood leukemia. They said John Wall had been in an angry downward spiral and focused on von Schwedler, filling a prescription for Xanax months before her death.
"He just couldn't stop talking about how much he hated her," prosecutor Nick D'Alesandro said during closings.
The day his ex-wife was found dead, John Wall went to a car wash early in the morning and had the interior of his car cleaned, including a pinkish stain, according to prosecutors. He came to work with a scratch on his face and injury to his eye; he said the family dog scratched him while he slept.
John Wall denied having anything to do with her death despite an intense police interrogation, but the couple's oldest daughter, 19-year-old Malkie Wall, testified that her father returned home deeply troubled and asking his children if he was a monster. His lawyers said he broke down after police made him question his sanity.
Wall is scheduled to be sentenced April 28.