SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah doctor killed his cancer researcher ex-wife during a bitter custody battle over their four children, leaving blood throughout her house, prosecutors said Wednesday as his murder trial got underway.
Uta Von Schwedler, who did studies on childhood leukemia, was found dead in her bathtub in 2011 with an overdose of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax in her system.
She didn't have a prescription for the drug, but her pediatrician ex-husband, John Brickman Wall, filled a large one months before her death, prosecutor Anna Rossi said.
"Uta was not alone when those bloodstains were placed in her bedroom," she said during opening arguments. "There is only one person who did this to Uta, who had the means and the motive."
Police called the 49-year-old Von Schwedler's death suspicious, but it was nearly 18 months before authorities charged Wall, 51, with murder and aggravated burglary in a largely circumstantial case.
A medical examiner found Von Schwedler died from drowning as well as a fatal amount of Xanax, but stopped short of ruling her death a homicide or suicide. She had cuts on her wrist and leg.
Wall's lawyer G. Fred Metos told jurors in his opening statement that there was no evidence the drug was forcibly injected. He argued Von Schwedler could have taken it and stumbled around the house after cutting herself.
"This is one of the most highly prescribed drugs in this country," Metos said. "People trade it back and forth and give it to friends."
Metos also threw suspicion onto Von Schwedler's boyfriend, Nils Abramson, saying he appeared to be distancing himself from the crime scene and creating an alibi.
Abramson testified Wednesday that he found Von Schwedler's body the evening of Sept. 27, 2011, after a bike ride.
The bathtub was filled with cold water, and floating in the water was a scrapbook she had made for her youngest daughter, he said.
She made many of the albums with images of family memories over the years, and after the divorce she and Wall fought over them.
Prosecutors said Von Schwedler wouldn't have committed suicide, pointing to a discovery she recently made that could have helped find new treatments for childhood leukemia.
After her death, the couple's oldest son, Pelle Wall, fueled speculation about his dad by saying he believed John Wall killed his mother. Pelle Wall asked the court to remove his two youngest siblings from his father's custody.
Now 21, Pelle Wall said Wednesday the trial was long-awaited.
"No matter what the outcome of this trial, I will never forget who this is really about," he said, remembering his mother's curiosity, passion for the outdoors and habit of speaking her mind.
Pelle Wall is set to testify during the trial, which is expected to last four weeks.
John Brickman Wall attended the trial Wednesday in a light blue shirt and tie with khaki pants. He has maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty.