An Anaheim man who propped his wife’s body up on a sofa for her children to open Christmas presents in 2011 was convicted Wednesday, April 7, of murder.
Nine years after the violent relationship between William Wallace, now 39, and 26-year-old Za’Zell Preston ended with her death, an Orange County Superior Court jury found Wallace guilty of second-degree murder.
During the trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown described Preston’s death as the culmination of a history of domestic violence carried out by Wallace, and noted he failed to call 911 despite his injured wife bleeding from a head injury.
“He had been threatening to kill her for three years,” Brown said. “And on Christmas he made good on those threats.”
Wallace’s attorney, Heather Moorhead, said Preston’s death was “heartbreaking,” but not Wallace’s fault.
“Both of them were drunk, and the injuries that ultimately caused her death were not caused by Mr. Wallace,” Moorhead said. “There are no facts in this case that show Mr. Wallace intended to kill.”
Preston had been pursuing dreams of becoming a domestic violence counselor, driven partly by her own experience with Wallace, who had served time in jail for beating her and had been the subject of a restraining order before convincing Preston to get back together with him. Jurors were given a variety of charges to deliberate over related to Preston’s death, ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first degree murder.
Jurors were also tasked with sifting through recollections of the night of Preston’s death, and the following Christmas morning, that in some cases had changed in key ways in the decade between Wallace’s arrest and trial.
Relatives of Preston described Wallace as controlling and violent, saying he had threatened to kill Preston on several occasions. Preston’s grandmother testified to finding Preston laying in the fetal position in the street after one alleged beating, and on another occasion receiving a call from Preston while she hid from Wallace in a convenience store bathroom.
Wallace and Preston were living in an Anaheim apartment with their newborn son and Preston’s daughters, who were then three and eight years old. On Christmas Eve, the couple went to a party at a neighbor’s before returning home.
During the trial, the older daughter, now 17, said Wallace and Preston were arguing when they returned, describing a confrontation that slowly turned physical.
The daughter described Wallace pushing Preston into a glass table. Wallace then asked the daughter to help him pull pieces of glass from Preston’s body, the daughter testified, before Wallace carried Preston into a bathroom to clean up her body. In the bathroom, Wallace dropped Preston and her head hit the side of a toilet seat, the daughter added.
“After she hit the toilet, and I think she was passed away, he just took her to the bedroom and put her down to sleep while she was deceased,” the daughter said. “That is what I remember, because she was cold.”
The daughter said she and her younger sister woke up the next morning and went out to open gifts. Wallace dragged Preston’s body into the living room and placed it on the living room couch, the daughter said.
“I remember trying to touch my mom and she was just rock hard, cold and I said “Mommy,” and she didn’t respond,” the daughter said.
At the beginning of the trial, the prosecutor told jurors that Wallace during a phone call Christmas morning with Preston’s grandmother said he and Preston had been drinking and “I tossed her around a bit,” later adding that he was “on my way to the penitentiary.”
However, during testimony during the trial, the grandmother, now 90, said she didn’t recall Wallace saying the word “tossing,” instead recalling that Wallace said he and Preston were “drinking and horsing around.” She also did not recall the alleged comment about going to a penitentiary.
The defense attorney also noted to jurors that the testimony of Preston’s older daughter appeared to conflict with comments to investigators shortly after Preston’s death that her mother had tripped and fallen into a table before Wallace could stop her.
Wallace, who has remained behind bars since his Dec. 25, 2011 arrest, is scheduled to return to court for sentencing on June 4.
Source: Orange County Register