Throw out statements Dr. John Wall made after ex-wife's death, defense asks
SALT LAKE CITY — The morning after Dr. John Wall learned his ex-wife had died and the pediatrician underwent police questioning, friends who responded to the home said he was distraught and incoherent and then calm and rational.
"It was a night and day difference in behavior and how he was speaking and acting," Andrea Brickey testified in 3rd District Court Monday. "I felt like he went from extremely upset to very calm and cool and collected. It was two different people — one was very upset and then the next thing I know he was very calm and ready to go."
Attorneys for the 50-year-old man, who is accused of killing Uta von Schwedler, are asking a judge to suppress statements he made to police, his children and friends, arguing that they were "involuntarily given" and coerced by officers who badgered him, lied to him and manipulated him.
Third District Judge Denise Lindberg heard arguments on the motion Monday.
Wall, 50, has been ordered to stand trial for murder and aggravated burglary in the death of his ex-wife. The 49-year-old was found dead in an overflowing bathtub in her home at 1433 E. Harrison Ave. (1625 South) on Sept. 27, 2011.
The cause of death was determined to be drowning. But the manner of death could not be determined because of "toxic to potentially lethal" amounts of Xanax found in her system that kept the medical examiner from ruling out the possibility of suicide.
The night von Schwedler's body was discovered, Salt Lake police went to Wall's home around 10 p.m. and asked him to accompany them to the police department, according to a memorandum filed by Walls' attorneys, Fred Metos and Howard Lundgren.
Officer George Pregman testified that he monitored and stayed with the doctor, making small talk until he was relieved by other officers.
"I was under the impression he was a witness so I was trying to be courteous and make him comfortable and answer questions as best I could when he posed them to me," Pregman said, adding he did not tell Wall why he was at the department. "He seemed kind of aloof, unsettled he just seemed kind of off, just kind of confused maybe."
Defense attorneys say Wall was placed in a 9-foot square room and made to wait for an hour before detectives came in to inform him that his ex-wife had died.
"The video recording reflects that the defendant was visibly shaken by that news," the defense motion states. "(Wall) asked the detectives questions to make sure they are talking about Uta von Schwedler. He then asked if she was on her bike when she died. The detectives stated that she had died under suspicious circumstances in her home."
The defense claims the officers told Wall someone else was responsible for her death before they read him his Miranda rights. "The detectives then quickly turned the focus of the interrogation to the defendant's actions and statements" in an interview that lasted until 4 a.m.
The memorandum alleges that the detectives repeatedly accused Wall of lying about a scratch on his eye, told him a witness had seen him at von Schwedler's home and told him that medications Wall was taking for depression could "cause him to have selective memory and that he could do things and commit acts that he would have no memory of."
The officers knew the statements about the medications were not true, the defense attorneys argue, and that the claim about a witness seeing him at his ex-wife's home was a "lie" that was repeated "approximately 30 times" during the interrogation.
"The defendant repeatedly stated he had no recollection of going to Ms. von Schwedler’s home," the document states. "The detectives told the defendant that he had killed his ex-wife and was not even aware of it. They also told him that he could possibly do this to one of his children and that he was sick and needed help."
The officers allegedly told him that it was not human to take the life of another, leading Wall to comment that anyone who could do this to the mother of their children was a "monster." He repeated this several times and ultimately the interview ended with him "talking to himself and questioning his sanity."
When Wall returned home sometime after 4 a.m., he woke his children and told them their mother had died. One of the children called a family friend, Andrea Brickey, who said she found Wall "distraught and incoherent" and saying police thought he was to blame for the woman's death, the memorandum states.
When she asked if it was true that he was responsible, Wall replied: "I don't know. If I did, I don't know. Only a monster would do these things."
"In this case there was an extreme amount of psychological coercion exerted by the detectives," the motion states before asking that the statements made to police, the children and two family friends be suppressed "as having been involuntarily given."
The judge will hear testimony from the two detectives who conducted the interview when the hearing continues on April 14.
"(Wall) wants this to move along and is anxious about the case, but the (court) calendars are what they are," Metos said, noting that he had hoped the case would go to trial sometime in the fall. "It's a complicated case with a lot of legal issues."
Von Schwedler's family has been adamant that the woman was not suicidal and vocal in their belief that Wall is responsible for her death. Prosecutors have said Wall and von Schwedler had been involved in a bitter divorce and continued to have a stormy relationship with over child custody issues.
Brickey testified Monday that she responded to the home and found Wall "upset and panicked" and that he made comments about not wanting to be left alone in case he jumped out the window. She said she called a friend, Jill Alger-James, for additional help and said Wall's demeanor immediately changed when she mentioned Xanax.
She said Wall initially asked what Xanax was before mentioning he had written a prescription for the medication for his mother. She said she eventually gave some Xanax to Wall, which defense attorneys suggest led to the change in his behavior.
Both Brickey and Alger-James, who eventually took Wall to the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, said they were most surprised when Wall started talking about how he was so saddened by von Schwedler's death and how he was pleased she had been happy with her boyfriend, Nils Abramson, at the time of her death.
"When he said that I was like, 'Something's going on, something's not right,'" Alger-James said. "Because John hated Nils and he hated Uta. He didn't want Uta to be happy. They were off character for everything I had heard from Johnny."
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