SALT LAKE CITY -- A Salt Lake City pediatrician convicted of killing his cancer researcher ex-wife amid a bitter custody dispute was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years-to-life in prison.
John Brickman Wall, 51, was given the sentence by state Judge James Blanch in a Salt Lake City courtroom as his oldest son and other family and friends watched. Wall's sister and father sat in the front row in support of him.
During his sentencing, Wall said emphatically that he did not kill his ex-wife, Uta von Schwedler, and said he would appeal.
His son, Pelle Wall, told the judge that he wants to see his father spend the rest of his natural life in prison. He said his father's portrayal of himself as the victim has profoundly compounded the grief he and his siblings are feeling.
The sentencing came after Blanch denied motions from John Wall's attorney to overturn the conviction on evidentiary issues.
Police initially treated the death as a suicide, and didn't arrest Wall until more than a year after von Schwedler, 49, was found dead in her Salt Lake City home in 2011.
Family and friends pushed for more investigation, saying the researcher showed no signs of wanting to end her life. Pelle Wall said publicly, including in the "48 Hours" episode "Father and Son," that he thought his father killed his mother, based on Wall's odd behavior and bizarre statements after von Schwedler's death. That included asking his children shortly after their mother's death if he was a monster and responsible for her death, the children testified.
A jury convicted Wall in March after hearing a largely circumstantial case against him in which prosecutors said he attacked her with a knife, gave her the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and drowned her in her bathtub.
"It was just like this huge weight had just dropped off," Pelle Wall told "48 Hours" of learning of his father's conviction. "A lot of relief, a lot of happiness."
Defense attorneys countered that the theory was unbelievable, and it was more likely that von Schwedler killed herself.
On Wednesday, attorney G. Fred Metos said prosecutors relied on a pyramid of inferences and multiple pieces of circumstantial evidence to make their case against Wall.
In the lead-up to sentencing, Wall, his siblings and parents sent Judge Blanch letters defending his character and calling him a loving father to the couple's four children.
Wall said people around him misinterpreted his confused state as guilt when he was actually dealing with grief and psychological trauma from police interrogation.
His sister, Wendy Wall, said the man depicted during the trial bears little resemblance to the brother she knows. She said he was a loving, doting father who wasn't violent.
His brother, Michael Wall, asked the judge to take into account that Wall has already suffered immeasurably by being separated from his four children.
"Johnny could suffer no greater torture than his physical, and now emotional, isolation from his children," Michael Wall wrote.