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.

Falater found work in his long-chosen field of electrical engineering; Yarmila worked in a medical laboratory, specializing in parasitology and hematology.

A few years after they were married, Falater says, Yarmila came around to his way of thinking about Mormonism--especially after a vacation that included a stop in Salt Lake City.

At the sprawling Mormon temple there, he recalls, the couple listened to a religious leader speak of the concept of eternal matrimony.

"It's called a sealing," Falater explains, "because, for us [Mormons] marriage does not end with 'until death do you part.' It goes on forever. . . . It's not a guarantee--both have to have lived worthy enough to live as husband and wife in the hereafter. [Yarmila] just looked at me and said, 'Do you want that?' I said, 'Of course, I do.'"

After the couple returned home, Falater says, Yarmila took religion classes and was baptized into the faith. Later, the Falaters were "sealed" in a ceremony at a Mormon temple in Washington, D.C.

(Falater says he doesn't know what his church has in store for him. "My stake president has told me my membership is on standby status--though I'm not sure what that means. If I'm convicted, I'm making the assumption that I'll be excommunicated. . . .")

The couple moved to Florida, where their two children were born in the early 1980s. They moved to Minnesota for a few years before migrating to Arizona in 1987.

Yarmila had given up her medical career after she gave birth to the couple's second child. (She also was an ace basket weaver and seamstress, among other skills.)

But Yarmila felt trapped and controlled, Falater says, in part because he'd become arrogant and self-centered. She was deeply depressed while they were living in Minnesota, partly, he says, "because she had no support system, and I was burning the midnight oil in a new job, and so forth."

Falater says he suspects that Yarmila may have left him if he hadn't changed.

"Frankly, now I look back and say, boy, what an asshole I was," he says. "It was the lowest point of our marriage when we were moving to Phoenix. But I started to realize how important it was for us to put down roots, to try to do better to make her happy. I think I did that."

At first, Arizona proved to be an oasis for the couple, and Falater's new job as an engineer at a Motorola semiconductor plant worked out well.

By the mid-1990s, according to Falater, his family had settled into a comfortable if somewhat frenetic routine: He worked long hours, was involved in his church, and spent whatever time he had left at home.

In his mind, his marriage was "working on all cylinders" as 1997 approached. The Falaters were planning a family trip to Europe in the summer of 1997. He wanted to become a full-time high school math and science teacher by the time he turned 50. Yarmila had returned to work, as an aide at a preschool.

The Falaters seemed like a normal American family.
But, without question, powerful stresses were building inside Scott Falater. His defense team will contend at trial that those stresses--mostly work-related--helped trigger the unwitting rage that took his wife's life.

Just before 11 p.m. on January 16, 1997, Phoenix police took a call from a northeast Phoenix man. Greg Koons said his next-door neighbor was holding a woman underwater in the swimming pool.

Steve Stanowicz was one of three Phoenix police officers to arrive within seconds of each other. Koons directed him to the Falaters' backyard, where a horrific tableau awaited.

Yarmila floated face down in the shallow end of the pool, her body lighted eerily by motion-detector lights. Blood poured out of the heavyset woman as Stanowicz pulled her from the pool. She was dressed casually.

Yarmila was pronounced dead at the scene.
Officer Kemp Layden saw a man in a white tee shirt and pajama pants in the house, and he and officer Joseph Jones walked in through the unlocked patio doors. They ordered the man at gunpoint to lie down on the floor.

"What's wrong? What's going on?" he asked the officers.
They asked how many people were in the house. Four, he replied, himself, his wife and their two kids.

Jones saw bloodstains on the man's tricep and behind his right ear as he handcuffed him. He asked the man to identify himself.

Scott Falater, the man said, and gave his date of birth.
"As he spoke to me," Jones' report says, "he seemed very shaky, with shortness of breath. He also had difficulty breathing."

The children remained asleep in their upstairs bedrooms until detectives awoke them after their father was in custody.

Another officer spoke with next-door neighbor Koons. In this first interview, Koons said he and his girlfriend, Stephanie Reidhead, had gone to bed around 10:10 p.m. He said he heard screaming from the Falaters' backyard, and he walked into his own backyard to see what was going on.

From there, he saw movement, and heard someone go into the Falaters' house. Koons stood on a planter to look over the block wall that separated his property from the Falaters'.

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