- Associated Press - Monday, October 19, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah pediatrician asked a state judge on Monday to overturn his murder conviction in the death of his ex-wife, arguing that prosecutors wrongly inflated a weak, circumstantial case.

Lawyers for John Brickman Wall, 51, argued that he should get a new trial in the 2011 death of cancer researcher Uta von Schwedler, who was found dead in her bathtub.

Prosecutors contend that Wall attacked her with a knife, dosed her with the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and drowned her. He was found guilty of murder in March after a nearly monthlong trial.

Defense attorneys argued that scenario was unlikely, and the evidence shows she killed herself instead.

Wall appeared in court Monday wearing a white prison jumpsuit and a new beard. He has maintained his innocence and vowed to appeal

Judge James Blanch did not immediately rule on the motion for a new trial.

Defense lawyer Fred Metos argued that a forensic expert gave inaccurate testimony on how von Schwedler could have been forced to take the anti-anxiety medication.

During the trial, Dr. Marcella Fierro said Wall probably crushed up the Xanax, mixed it with water and used a syringe to send it down her throat, similar to how he gave reluctant children medication in his pediatrician’s office.

She said the medication would have been absorbed more quickly that way, but defense attorneys say that isn’t true.

“She was just flat wrong. She just made this up,” Metos said.

He said that element of her testimony was critical because it explained away an inconvenient fact for the prosecution: how pieces of Xanax pills ended up in her stomach. That would have been logical if she had taken the pills herself, but forcing a person to swallow is generally difficult.

Prosecutors countered that Fierro had a scientific basis for her opinion and added that the testimony wasn’t essential to the conviction because it didn’t matter exactly how she was killed but rather that Wall murdered her

“The jurors were not here to decide how this drug got into her system,” said prosecutor Matthew Janzen.

Metos also argued that prosecutors overstated a discovery that von Schwedler made at work before her death that could have led to new treatments for childhood leukemia. It was portrayed at her trial as a reason she would not have committed suicide.

Rather than a major breakthrough, it was an incremental step that put her under more pressure at the university cancer research lab, Metos said.

Janzen argued that it was a significant step forward and added that her children were an even bigger reason that she would not have killed herself.

Prosecutors said that Wall and his ex-wife were locked in a bitter custody batter over their children when he came into her house and killed her.

Police initially treated von Schwedler’s death as a suicide, but her family and friends pushed for more investigation. The couple’s oldest son publicly said he believed his father had killed his mother.

In interviews after the trial, jurors said they were convinced she wouldn’t have killed herself.

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