US paediatrician pleads not guilty to murder

2013-10-22 11:48
John Brickman Wall enters Judge Robin Rees courtroom for his preliminary hearing at the Matheson Courthouse, in Salt Lake City. (File, AP)

John Brickman Wall enters Judge Robin Rees courtroom for his preliminary hearing at the Matheson Courthouse, in Salt Lake City. (File, AP)

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Salt Lake City - A doctor pleaded not guilty on Monday to a murder charge in the killing of his ex-wife, a university biologist.

John Brickman Wall, aged 49, has maintained his innocence since Uta Von Schwedler was found dead in her bathtub in September 2011.

The paediatrician wasn't charged until April. A judge ruled last month there's enough evidence to send the case to trial.

During Monday's arraignment, a Utah state judge read Wall the charges - first-degree murder and burglary - and asked for his plea. Wall leaned close to a microphone at a podium and said in a firm voice, "Your honour, I am not guilty."

Pelle Wall, aged 19, the couple's oldest son sat in the front row alongside his adopted mother and Von Schwedler's boyfriend who found her body.

The trial is not likely to start until the middle of next year. The defendant's attorney, Fred Metos, says Wall is unlikely to consider a plea deal.

Wall's plea came as a trial continues for another Utah doctor accused of killing his wife, also found in a bathtub.

Martin MacNeill, aged 57, is charged with murder in the death of his wife, a former beauty queen, with a fatal dose of prescription drugs in what prosecutors say was a plot to carry on an affair. That trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

In each case, medical examiners found high doses of drugs in the woman's system, but could not determine if the deaths were homicides.

In the Wall case, a medical examiner ruled Von Schwedler died from drowning as well as a fatal amount of Xanax but said he wasn't sure if it was homicide or suicide.

During the preliminary hearing on 2 October, medical examiner Dr Erik Christensen testified that the cuts found on Von Schwedler's body were not consistent with suicide, and the high levels of the Xanax antidepressant in her system forced him to leave the cause of death as undetermined.

Christensen said he doesn't know how the Xanax got into her system.

In explaining his decision to send the case to trial, Third District Judge Robin Reese noted Wall's bizarre behaviour after Von Schwedler's death and his documented anger toward the victim.

Witnesses testified that Wall was evasive during police interrogations and had developed hatred for the mother of his four children following a bitter divorce and ensuing custody battle.

Metos says the prosecution's case is weak, arguing that evidence suggests Von Schwedler ingested the Xanax herself and that that the prosecution's reliance on DNA linking Wall to the crime is "marginal at best".

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