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Murder trial begins Tuesday for former pediatrician accused of murdering his ex-wife

SALT LAKE CITY — Jury selection begins Tuesday in the four-week trial of a former pediatrician accused of murdering his ex-wife, a University of Utah researcher.

John Brickman Wall, 51, was charged with murder 18 months after his ex-wife was found dead in her overflowing bathtub, a toxic dose of Xanax in her system and a kitchen knife in the water with her. At the time of her death, Uta von Schwedler, 49, had no prescription for the drug, but four months earlier Wall wrote a prescription for Xanax for his mother, which he filled himself.

The medical examiner said at the time the manner of death "could not be determined." It was also noted that there were no signs of forced entry into the house, 1433 E. Harrison Ave. (1625 South).

Wall pleaded not guilty to charges of his ex-wife's death in October 2013.

Von Schwedler's friends and family have loudly and publicly contested that her death, Sept. 27, 2011, could not have been suicide, laying blame on Wall and the couple's tempestuous relationship through the end of their marriage and following their 2006 divorce.

Born in Germany, Von Schwedler was a renowned biologist at the University of Utah and an avid outdoorswoman. Wall was a popular pediatrician. Following their divorce and in the days leading up to von Schwedler's death, custody disputes over their four children became especially bitter.

The oldest Wall son, Pelle, 17 at the time of his mother's death, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his father in December 2012. The lawsuit was a response to John Wall's attempt to sue his son over a set of prized family scrapbooks, handmade by von Schwedler and hotly contested following the dissolution of the couple's marriage.

Now 21, Pelle Wall may make a statement Tuesday as his father's trial begins, family friends said Monday. Many of von Schwedler's closest friends and family members are expected to testify during the trial.

Following his von Schwedler's death, Pelle Wall moved out of his John Wall's home fought to have his younger siblings removed from his father's custody. The dispute eventually spurred a change in Utah law specifically addressing custody questions when one parent is suspected of murdering the other.

In preliminary hearings, investigators testified that John Wall's behavior was erratic and his answers elusive when he was interviewed about his wife's death, giving varied accounts about his whereabouts and scratches to his eye and face.

John Wall's actions became increasingly bizarre, to the point that two days later he was taken to the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Unit where he stayed for the next six days.

Defense attorney Fred Metos contends it was detectives' lengthy and oppressive interrogation that left John Wall muttering "I'm a monster," making troubling statements to his children and questioning his sanity. Metos petitioned that John Wall's remarks after von Schwedler's death not be allowed in the trial, but the request was not granted.

DNA evidence found at the scene and an extensive deposition John Wall gave in the civil lawsuit filed by his son will also be allowed during the trial.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero