Man propped dead wife on couch for kids opening Christmas presents, prosecutor says

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Za’Zell Preston at Disneyland with one of her daughters. (Courtesy of Preston family)
Za’Zell Preston at Disneyland with one of her daughters. (Courtesy of Preston family)


A violent relationship ended with an Anaheim man killing his wife and then propping her body up on a sofa for her children opening presents on Christmas morning in 2011, a prosecutor told jurors on Monday, March 8.

More than nine years after 26-year-old Za’Zell Preston’s dreams of becoming a domestic-violence counselor ended with her own sudden death in 2011, trial began Monday for William Wallace, the husband who had already served jail time for beating her during an earlier confrontation.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told jurors that Wallace, now 39, “did what he always did, expecting (Preston) to survive like she always did. …

“This Christmas story does not have a happy ending, and unfortunately this is not just a story, it is real life,” Brown said.

Wallace’s attorney, Heather Moorhead, denied that her client was responsible for his wife’s death, telling jurors that a drunk Preston was injured when she fell into a glass table, shattering it.

“Mr. Wallace is being accused of something that is not his fault,” Moorhead told jurors. “You will hear about a relationship that was full of arguing and yelling, but also a lot of love.”

Preston relatives told investigators that Wallace was controlling and violent, and alleged that he threatened to kill his wife on several occasions. One relative described finding a pregnant Preston laying in the fetal position in the street after one alleged beating, the prosecutor said.

On Christmas Eve that year, the couple went to a party at a neighbor’s before returning home to the apartment they shared with their newborn son and Preston’s daughters who were then three and eight years old.

One neighbor described hearing arguing that night, the prosecutor said, while another told investigators Wallace could be seen picking up what appeared to be a body by an apartment gate. Wallace told one of Preston’s family members that “we were drinking and during the argument I tossed her around a bit,” Brown told the court, adding that Preston tried to run but he caught her and brought her back into the apartment.

The next morning – Christmas Day – the prosecutor said Wallace dragged his wife’s body from the bedroom to a living room couch, put sunglasses on her and told the children “Mommy ruined Christmas, she got drunk and ruined Christmas.”

Then, Brown added, he had the children open up their presents.

Police found blood throughout the apartment, along with holes punched in walls and a door off of its hinges. Preston was still slumped over on the sofa when paramedics arrived.

In a call to one of Preston’s relatives after her death, Wallace had said he was “on my way to the penitentiary,” the prosecutor said.

Wallace’s attorney said neighbors heard what sounded like an angry Preston yelling at Wallace in an alley behind the apartment complex.  The defense attorney said Preston’s older daughter saw her mother trip and fall into a table before Wallace could stop her.

The daughter helped pull glass out of her mother’s body and clean her wounds, Moorhead said. Wallace then moved her into a bathtub, the defense attorney said, but Preston’s head struck something else in the bathroom on the way.

Wallace told multiple people that his wife had suffered a concussion after falling and hitting her head the previous night and had not woken up, his attorney said.

Several months before her death, Preston had enrolled in classes at Cypress College, where she hoped to learn to become a domestic-violence counselor.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Wallace faces up to 25 years to life in prison. He has remained behind bars in lieu of a $1 million bail while awaiting trial since his Dec. 25, 2011 arrest, according to jail records.

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