On Christmas morning of 2011, William Wallace of Anaheim, California and his wife Za’Zell Preston watched their children opening their gifts. Seven weeks earlier, the couple had welcomed a boy into their family, and the Christmas morning scene in their living room appeared to be the epitome of joy.
The night before, however, their father had beaten their mother to death, covered her face with sunglasses, and laid her body on the couch to make it appear that she was still alive.
The Orange County Register reports that Wallace murdered the 26-year-old mother of his three children as the climax of years of domestic violence.
On Christmas Eve, a neighbor heard them bickering in their apartment following a local holiday party. Prosecutors have created a horrific picture of the events that transpired on Christmas morning, but the entire specifics have not yet been revealed in court.
Reportedly, Wallace brought his wife into the living room with sunglasses on her head, laid her body on the couch, and informed his children that “she got drunk and ruined Christmas.” The children then began to open their gifts, oblivious to the fact that they were doing it in front of their mother’s corpse.
By 9:30 a.m., Wallace could no longer maintain the ruse, and he called 911 to report that his wife required medical attention (though accounts differ as to who called). When paramedics got on the scene, her body was still on the couch, wearing sunglasses.
Wallace attempted to escape the scenario by claiming that his wife had inadvertently injured herself, but he was unsuccessful. As soon as the police arrived, he was arrested.
The prosecution’s case paints a bleak picture of both the events of Christmas 2011 and the preceding years of torture.
“This Christmas story does not have a happy ending, and unfortunately this is not just a story, it is real life,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown.
In her opening statements, Brown told the jury that Wallace “did what he always did, expecting [Preston] to survive like she always did.” But during this particular beating, Preston succumbed to her wounds while her kids were fast asleep.
The family of Preston had already notified detectives of Wallace’s violent and domineering nature. While pregnant, one of her family claimed to have discovered Preston in the street after a particularly brutal beating.
Meanwhile, Wallace’s attorney Heather Moorhead is advancing his story that it was all a tragic accident.
“Mr. Wallace is being accused of something that is not his fault,” said Moorhead. “You will hear about a relationship that was full of arguing and yelling, but also a lot of love.”
The defense contends that Preston fell onto a glass table and broke it while she was drunk. However, investigators discovered blood around the home, as well as multiple holes in the wall and a door that had been removed from its hinges.
Additionally, Preston’s relatives allege that Wallace had previously attempted to murder her multiple times. Brown told the jury that Wallace informed him, “We were drinking, and during the altercation I threw her around a bit.”
However, Preston’s oldest daughter stated that she witnessed her mother trip and fall through the glass table before Wallace came home. Moorhead stated that Wallace and the daughter carried her into the bathtub, but she suffered a head injury en route.
According to The New York Post, it is still unknown who dialed 911. What is certain, however, is that Wallace told multiple individuals that his wife had suffered a concussion after hitting her head, and only realized she was dead the next morning when she failed to wake up.