A Killer Sleep Disorder

Scott Falater, a mild-mannered Mormon family man, inexplicably stabbed his wife 44 times, then drowned her in the family pool while a neighbor watched. His defense? He was sleepwalking.

The two men face each other in an interview room at the Phoenix Police Department.

It is 1:53 a.m. on January 17, 1997. Veteran detective John Norman introduces himself to Scott Louis Falater, who is seated in a corner of the little room, his back literally against a wall.

Norman is dressed casually. Falater is clad in red-plaid pajama bottoms and a white tee shirt. He is barefoot. His hands are folded on his lap, and his shoulders are slumped.

"You okay? Cold?" the detective asks Falater, not unkindly.
Falater ignores the question. "I'm afraid that this means my wife [Yarmila] is dead?" he says.

"Yeah."
The 41-year-old Falater sways, and leans his head against the wall. He looks up, weeping quietly, then covers his face with his hands.

"You okay?" Norman asks him.
"Yeah."
The detective reads Falater the Miranda warning against self-incrimination. The suspect says he understands his rights, and waives them. Norman tells Falater his two teenage children are safe, then gets to the point.

"What brought this on?" the detective asks. "You tell me what happened."
"I don't know," Falater responds, monotonically.
"From what the neighbors say, you guys have never fought before. . . ." Norman says.

"I loved her."
"What set this thing off, got it going?"
"Obviously, you think I did it. I don't know what makes you think that."

"Well, because I have a neighbor staring at you watching you do it, that's why."

"Jeez."
"So, it's not whether you did it or not--that's not my concern. I want to know why you did it."

"I'm sorry. I don't remember doing it."
The detective asks what he does recall about the previous evening.
"I remember I was in bed," Falater replies. "I heard the dogs go crazy, and I heard all the voices, came down, and you guys were all over me. God."

"You remember more than that," Norman says firmly.
"No. She stayed in bed, she stayed on the couch downstairs watching ER, and I went to bed."

"What did you guys argue over, Scott?"
"Nothing. Nothing. How did she die?"
Falater peeks through his hands while awaiting an answer.

"Well, the neighbor says you stabbed her and drug her over to the pool, and held her under the water in the pool, and watched you do it. From what people are telling me about you guys, you spend a lot of time in the church. A real quiet family, and real out of character. I want to know what went on, what would lead to something like this to set you off like that? What did she do to set you off like that?"

"Nothing."
"What did you do to set yourself off like that? Something set you off, Scott."

"I'm sorry, I just don't know."
"Help me with this, Scott. This is hard for me to understand. . . ."
"You can say that again. I just don't know. . . . I loved her, been married all my adult life. She certainly didn't deserve to die. She was a good wife, great mother. So are my kids."

"What went wrong?"
"I'm sorry. Nothing."
"Nothing went wrong?"
"I love my wife. I love my kids."

Norman says he's heard nothing but positive things about Falater, a products manager at a Motorola semiconductor plant and youth-group teacher at his Mormon church.

A few unproductive minutes later, the detective asks Falater how he became stained by blood.

"What blood?" the suspect replies.
"The blood all over your neck."
Falater touches the back of his neck.
"Here? I didn't know there was blood on me."

Norman points out that Falater also has a Band-Aid on a fresh cut on his right hand. Falater says he doesn't remember sustaining the cut or applying the bandage.

Norman adopts a more confrontational tone.
"I know you're lying," he says. "Too many people heard you yelling and fighting with her, and too many people saw you, and saw you push her under water in the pool. They know you and saw you doing it--that's a fact. And I want to know why. Something had to set this thing off . . ."

"I'm sorry. I just don't know," Falater drones.
"Okay, if that's the way you want it," Norman says. "But you're going to jail for first-degree murder."

Falater asks the detective to deliver a message to his children: "Tell them I love them. No matter what they hear, tell them I love them."

Detective Norman was correct in saying that the enduring enigmas of Yarmila Falater's murder are not the ifs, but the whys.

Why would a deeply religious, mild-mannered, teetotaling, financially stable, seemingly devoted husband and father stab his screaming wife 44 times by the lighted swimming pool as their teenage children slept upstairs?

And why, as a neighbor looked on minutes later, would this man roll his mortally wounded wife into the pool and hold her head underwater?

Those are the case's central riddles--and they may never be solved to anyone's satisfaction.

One question, however, will be answered at Falater's first-degree-murder trial in Maricopa County Superior Court, scheduled to start in February. That is, can Scott Falater and his defense team convince jurors that he killed his wife while sleepwalking?

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