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Appeals court upholds Utah doctor’s conviction of murdering wife

By Pat Reavy, KSL | Posted - Dec. 12, 2019 at 4:34 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a Salt Lake pediatrician who killed his ex-wife, a University of Utah researcher, and left her body in an overflowing bathtub to make it look like a suicide.

Johnny Brickman Wall, 56, was convicted of murder, a first-degree felony, in 2015 and was sentenced to 15 years to life in the Utah State Prison.

He was accused of killing his wife, Uta von Schwedler, 49, who was found dead in her Sugar House home, 1433 E. Harrison Ave. (1625 South), on Sept. 27, 2011. It appeared as though she drowned in her bathtub after taking a toxic level of Xanax. A medical examiner could not determine whether her death was murder or suicide.

But her family insisted she would not kill herself, and that it was Wall who reached a boiling point in an already tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife — whom he despised — who killed her because of a custody dispute.

In court, Wall’s defense team argued that von Schwedler was depressed and committed suicide. Wall also maintained his innocence throughout his trial, even at sentencing.

“I did not kill Uta. I am innocent of this crime,” Wall told the judge before he was sentenced.

In an eight-page letter submitted to the court, Wall stated in detail why he believes all the physical evidence from the trial proves he did not murder her.

On Thursday, however, the Utah Court of Appeals concluded “there was sufficient evidence to support Wall’s murder conviction.”

In addition to arguing there was insufficient evidence to convict him, Wall also stated in his appeal that certain DNA evidence should not have been admitted at trial and that his defense attorneys were “ineffective for failing to object when the state mischaracterized the DNA results,” according to Utah Court of Appeals documents.

But the appeals court disagreed with Wall’s arguments.

“The jury’s determination that Uta was murdered is well supported by the evidence admitted at trial,” the court wrote in its decision. “There was also sufficient evidence to support the jury’s determination that Wall was the murderer.”

The appeals court found that the trial court did not exceed its discretion when allowing certain DNA evidence, and that his defense attorneys did not perform deficiently.

The court also noted in its decision that Wall had the opportunity to kill von Schwedler, had access to the drugs used to subdue her, changed his story during the investigation, and that his “behavior and statements” following von Schwedler's death “showed consciousness of guilt.”

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