SALT LAKE CITY — For family members and friends of Uta von Schwedler, Tuesday was a day they have wanted for for a long time.
A three-day preliminary hearing for her ex-husband — a doctor accused of killing her — began at the Matheson Courthouse. John Brickman Wall, 51, is charged with murder and aggravated burglary, first-degree felonies. Judge Robin Reese will decide during the next three days whether there is enough evidence to order Wall to stand trial on the charges.
The two had been involved in a bitter divorce and they continued fighting after their separation. Ever since her body was found in an overflowing bathtub in her home, 1433 E. Harrison Ave. (1625 South), on Sept. 27, 2011, her family — including the couple's oldest son, Pelle Wall — has been vocal about their belief that John Wall is responsible for her death.
The medical examiner determined that her cause of death was drowning. But she also had a "fatal or near fatal amount of Xanax in her body," according to charging documents. The medical examiner, however, could not determine whether the death was a homicide or a suicide.
Nils Abramson, von Schwedler's boyfriend at the time of her death, testified Tuesday that he was the person who discovered her body in the bathtub.
After she didn't respond to his text messages that day, Abramson stopped by her house that evening. From the outside, he could see only a light on inside her bathroom, and then could hear running water when he entered.
"I said 'Hello, hello,' then I pushed the door open," he said. "I observed Uta in the bathtub under about 3 inches of water."
Abramson said he grabbed von Schwedler, 49, by her arm and pulled her out to attempt CPR. "She was so stiff, I knew rigor had set in," he testified. "And I just let her back down. I grabbed (the phone) and called 911 and said, 'My girlfriend is dead.'"
Abramson remained stoic during his testimony, despite being asked to recount what happened that day and look at crime scene photos, which included von Schwedler's body in the drained bathtub.
"It just brings back way too many memories that are not very pleasant. I'm just glad after this we won't have to deal with it again for awhile," he said outside the courtroom.
During his testimony, Abramson pointed out things that were not common in his girlfriend's house that night, as prosecutors projected images from the home on a screen.
A scrapbook of one of her children was found in the bathtub with von Schwedler. Abramson said her scrapbooks, one made for each child, were "immensely important" to her and she would never take them near a bathtub. The scrapbooks were also a point of heavy contention between her and Wall prior to her death. He wanted possession of them but she wouldn't give them up, family members said.
Abramson also noticed "foamy blood" coming out of her nose that night. He testified that he saw blood stains on the window sill above the tub and on the edge of the sink, as well as on her bedsheet. She was found in the bathtub wearing the type of pajama bottoms that she would typically wear to bed. Her bed sheets were in disarray as was the rug on her bedroom floor.
The blinds in von Schwedler's bedroom were down — something that Abramson said "would never be the case."
Underneath her body, investigators found a magazine and a knife, one that Abramson believes came from the kitchen.
Abramson, who is a social worker, described his girlfriend as a happy and cordial person who did not have thoughts about or exhibit signs of suicide. When asked if she had any enemies, he replied: "The only person I can think of who would be an enemy is her ex-husband, John."
The most tense moment Tuesday came when Salt Lake police detective Mike Hardin was cross-exmained by defense attorney Fred Metos. After von Schwedler's body was discovered, Hardin and another officer went to Wall's house to take him to police headquarters for questioning. Hardin said Wall wasn't acting normal.
"He never asked us why we were there, what this was concerning, or anything of the sort," he testified.
The officers also noticed scratches above and below Wall's left eye. Hardin said they appeared to be fingernail scratches. Wall had several excuses for the scratches, Hardin testified, including that his dog was responsible. He then told the officers that the scratches on each arm were caused by rose bushes.
After 90 minutes of questioning, Hardin said it was clear to him that Wall was being evasive — particularly when trying to answer questions about where he was on Sept. 26 and 27, 2011, or when he had last been at von Schwedler's house.
"We believed that Johnny Wall was not being truthful. He was being very evasive to the relatively easy questions that were being asked," Hardin said.
When Wall repeatedly told police he didn't know where he was that day, and made statements such as, "I don't think I did it," the tone of the interview quickly escalated from calm to confrontational. For the next five to six minutes, the questioning of Wall became very heated, with the two officers yelling at Wall at one point and accusing him of murdering his wife.
"If I committed a crime, I'd sure as hell know where I was," Hardin told Wall. "I don't know where the (expletive) I was," an agitated Wall replied back.
Metos said Hardin made statements to his client during that heated confrontation such as, "The reason you don't want to remember is because you killed her," and "You are responsible for her death." And when Hardin asked Wall if he wanted to see who killed von Schwedler, he said he would "get you a mirror."
The cross-examination became tense when Metos claimed Hardin told Wall 25 times during his questioning that a witness saw him at von Schwedler's house at the time of the crime.
"You're telling him the evidence doesn't lie, but you're lying to him about the evidence," Metos said.
Hardin admitted he lied to Wall about a witness stepping forward, but said, "I felt comfortable about it."
Metos spent much of his cross examination questioning and criticizing the detective's interrogation techniques.
At the end of the two hour police interview, Wall said, "I'm a monster." But neither Metos nor Hardin said in court Tuesday whether the sentence was made as a statement or asked as a question.
Like Abramson, Klaus Fiebig, 49, testified that von Schwedler never had thoughts of taking her own life. Fiebig said he has been a friend of John Wall since childhood. He also shared an apartment with von Schwedler at one point and helped introduce the two to each other.
After the divorce, Fiebig, who now lives in Toronto, tried to keep in touch with both Wall and von Schwedler through email and phone calls. By January of 2011, he thought Wall's attitude toward his ex-wife "was very much full of hate and it really escalated."
"He was very much against Uta. Everything that Uta did caused problems for him," Fiebig testified, adding that Wall talked about how his ex-wife had "ruined his life."
During that time, Fiebig said Wall made the comment: "Would it be bad if Uta wasn't here anymore?"
During cross-examination, defense attorney Howard Lundgren said his client had been thinking about moving, and suggested that his comment may have been related to that.
Fiebig also testified that von Schwedler was frustrated with some of her continued problems with Wall. In her last email to him just days before her death, she was looking forward to a planned family vacation to San Diego with her children. She was not a person who talked about suicide, he said.