A man who beat his wife to death and then propped her body up on a sofa as her children opened their Christmas presents is facing 15 years to life in jail.
William Wallace, 39, of Anaheim, Southern California, was convicted Wednesday of second degree murder after he killed college student Za’Zell Preston, 26, in 2011.
Wallace, who had already served jail time for beating Preston, flew into a drunken rage after the couple arrived home from a Christmas Eve party at a neighbor’s.
Preston tried to flee but Wallace dragged her back inside the apartment and continued his attack.
The following morning, he dragged her body into the living-room, propped her on the couch, placed sunglasses over her face and told her children: ‘Mommy ruined Christmas, she got drunk and ruined Christmas.’
Wallace then instructed the children to open their presents while Preston was remained on the couch.
Paramedics later arrived to find Preston’s body slumped over on the sofa.
She left a seven-week-old son and two daughters from a previous relationship, who were then three and eight years old.
The couple had gone to a friend’s party and a neighbor described hearing an argument later that night, Heather Brown, deputy district attorney for Orange County said at the trial.
Another neighbor said Wallace could be seen picking up what appeared to be a body by an apartment gate.
Wallace told one of Preston’s relatives that ‘we were drinking and during the argument I tossed her around a bit,’ the prosecutor said.
Preston tried to flee but Wallace tracked her down and dragged her back to the apartment, the trial heard.
Investigators said they found blood stains throughout the home. There were also holes punched in the wall and a door was knocked off its hinges.
After Preston was found dead, Wallace is alleged to have told one of her relatives that he was ‘on my way to the penitentiary.’
He also told relatives that he was defending himself from Preston.
Wallace claimed that it was Preston who had attacked him, bit him, and that she fell and hit her head while he was defending himself.
Wallace’s attorney argued that Preston died from injuries after she drunkenly tripped and fell into a glass table, shattering it.
‘Mr. Wallace is being accused of something that is not his fault,’ Heather Moorhead told jurors.
‘You will hear about a relationship that was full of arguing and yelling, but also a lot of love.’
Moorhead said that neighbors heard a woman believed to be Preston angrily yell at Wallace in an alleyway behind the apartment complex.
The attorney told the court that after Preston fell into the table, her older daughter removed glass from her mother’s body and helped clean her wounds.
Moorhead claims that her client, Wallace, then moved Preston into a bathtub but that her head struck something else in the bathroom.
Wallace could face up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.
Lorri Galloway, a longtime friend of Preston, who was also an Anaheim city council member, told The Orange County Register that Wallace regularly beat Preston during their three-year relationship.
Galloway, who ran a home for abused women and children, said she and others begged Preston to leave Wallace.
‘This is the story of a girl who had access to resources, but she thought she could handle it,’ Galloway said.
These men are experts at apologizing. The women think they can change them.’
In 2008, Wallace was convicted of battery against a cohabitant. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail, probation and was required to attend a batterer’s treatment program.
Soon afterward, Preston got a restraining order against Wallace, but relatives said that on several occasions he managed to convince her to forgive him.
Wallace was arrested at least two times for violating the restraining order. Nonetheless, Preston would visit him in jail.
At one point, when she was pregnant with Wallace’s child, she visited him behind bars, where he told her that he had ‘found Jesus.’
‘He was going to live life as a man of faith,’ Galloway said Preston told her.
‘She believed it.’
Preston told her mother and grandmother that she intended to marry Wallace.
‘We begged her not to marry this guy,’ her mother, Saidell Preston, told OCR.
‘I told her I had a bad feeling about her marrying him,’ her grandmother, Sallie Baker, said.
In the summer of 2011, just months before her death, Wallace was released from jail. Preston allowed him to move into her apartment in Anaheim.
On July 29, 2011, she posted on Facebook a picture of her and Wallace kissing under the caption, ‘Lovebirds for life.’
District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in the statement on Wednesday: ‘A young mother finally losing her life after years of violence at the hands of her husband is a heart-wrenching tragedy.
‘That heartbreak is only exacerbated by the fact that her children witnessed much of the violence and were forced to celebrate Christmas in the presence of their dead mother. That is not a Christmas memory any child should be forced to have.’