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SALT LAKE CITY — When Ryan Seeborg originally cast his vote among fellow jurors on whether Johnny Brickman Wall should be found guilty of murder, his vote was not guilty.
"I went in there with the judge's instructions of a presumption of innocence," he said Friday. "We wanted to start with not guilty and get to guilty."
But ultimately, it was Wall's own words that led Seeborg to determine the pediatrician is guilty of murdering his ex-wife, Uta von Schwedler, in 2011.
The body of von Schwedler, 49, a University of Utah researcher, was discovered in an overflowing bathtub in her home at 1433 E. Harrison Ave. (1625 South). High levels of Xanax were found in her body and cuts were found on her arms and a leg. Prosecutors said she was killed by her former husband who hated her and was upset over their ongoing custody battle. Defense attorneys countered by painting a picture of von Schwedler as the one who was depressed over their fights and ultimately committed suicide.
Seeborg was one of eight jurors who listened to four weeks of testimony in the murder trial and then deliberated for seven hours before reaching a unanimous guilty verdict late Thursday.
"I would say that we came to a decision almost sooner than that. But we really wanted to make sure. We wanted to take it seriously. We went through the judge's instructions at that point and made sure," he said Friday.
Seeborg said after the five-man, three-woman jury got the case, they took an initial vote via secret ballot just to see what everyone in the room was thinking. That initial vote was 5-3 to convict. Seeborg said he was surprised there were three initial votes for not guilty because he thought he would be the only one.
At that point, he said each juror spoke to the others about their vote and expressed their concerns. After several hours of discussion and review of the evidence, all eight agreed that guilty was the right decision, he said.
"Really what people wanted is the smoking gun. They wanted the videotaped surveillance that saw him going in (von Schwedler's house). And that wasn't here. But they wanted to feel comfortable putting him somehow at the scene. All the evidence around everything else was pointing at him clearly. But people wanted to feel comfortable with guilty … placing him at the scene."
Xanex, DNA and familial estrangement
One of the factors that swayed Seeborg was testimony that Wall returned to his home after being interrogated by Salt Lake police and was very upset and on the verge of having a breakdown. Wall's children called a neighbor to help. The neighbor offered to get Wall Xanax.
"And he acted like he had no idea what Xanax was. And I think that was completely intentional," Seeborg said. "He was very intentionally trying to distance himself of what Xanax was."
And he acted like he had no idea what Xanax was. ... He was very intentionally trying to distance himself of what Xanax was.
–Ryan Seeborg, juror
Seeborg thought it was a point that prosecutors could have pushed harder.
Prosecutors told jurors from the start that their case was largely circumstantial. Seeborg said the three days of tedious testimony over DNA that allegedly put Wall at his ex-wife's house was not very helpful.
However, he said another juror who originally voted not guilty, changed his mind because of DNA evidence found under von Schwedler's fingertips.
While the male DNA found couldn't be definitively matched to Wall, investigators could exclude other potential suspects, and that was something juror Kevin Hales found convincing.
Also a factor for Hales, a 21-year-old BYU student, was testimony from the former couple's oldest son, Pelle Wall, who said publicly during the long investigation that he suspected his father in his mother's death. Emails from father to son telling him to return his key and cutting off his insurance struck Hales as cold.
"He just pretty much kicked him out of his life," Hales said.
Blood spatter and the odd interview
Cameron Sharp, the jury foreman, said he and other jurors quickly decided that von Schwedler did not kill herself. After agreeing early on that the death wasn't a suicide, they focused on whether there was enough evidence to convict Wall, he said.
Sharp found the blood-spatter expert's testimony among the most convincing, as well as Wall's inability to account for his whereabouts on the night of his ex-wife's death.
It seems coincidental and too odd a guy of his intelligence cannot remember and follow and know what he had done the night before.
–Cameron Sharp, jury foreman
"It seems coincidental and too odd a guy of his intelligence cannot remember and follow and know what he had done the night before," he said.
Seeborg agreed that the videotaped interview police conducted with Wall shortly after the body was found and the recorded deposition he gave in 2013 were also key factors for him. During the police interview Wall gave a lot of "I don't know" answers to their questions, he said. Two years later, Wall had answers.
"His direct testimony, his deposition, where suddenly he has memory of something happening the night before with Uta. And now suddenly she's there and he has this perfect story that happens to fit all the pieces and explain all that's going on, that he had no idea about in the original police interview. That was really key for me," he said.
A life-changing experience
Overall, the case had a strong impact on Seeborg.
"It's really emotional. It's a serious thing. Somebody's life is hanging in the balance on what I and others decide," he said. "It's hard to put into words. It was easy to put it into tears, honestly.
"I saw some of (von Schwedler's) family members crying (after the verdict was read). And that was really hard to see all that raw emotion there pouring out."
Seeborg said the case opened his eyes about how important the jury process is. And after four weeks of being under court order not to talk about the case with anyone, he found himself struggling for words once he was allowed to speak.
"It's interesting because the whole time all you want to do is talk. And now you're given permission to talk and you're not quite sure what to say. It's like a complete switch has been flipped," he said.
Seeborg said the most important factor for the jury was making sure the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" was met.
"(We asked ourselves), 'Does all the evidence point to the guilty?' And it did."
Wall's sister, Wendy Wall, issued a brief statement about the decision.
"This verdict will not bring Uta back," she said. "Now, to that tragedy has been added the conviction of an innocent man."
Wall will be sentenced on April 28.
Contributing: Associated Press, Nkoyo Iyamba