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.

Broughton and many other sleep-disorder experts agree with the authors of a 1985 article titled "On Serious Violence During Sleep-Walking." Published in a British journal, it concludes, "The sleeping mind is not in touch with reality and amnesia for events during sleep is usual."

Beyond that, warns Valley psychologist Dr. Carl Patrasso: "It's never good to wake up a sleepwalker suddenly. One of the difficulties seems to be the chance of violence and difficulty in waking them up. Many strike back or flail."

Mike Kimerer may try to convince jurors that that's exactly what happened in the Falater case--that Yarmila startled the sleepwalking Falater after he began work on the pool pump sometime after 10 p.m. Perhaps she tried to lead her husband back to the house, the attorney may argue, which set him into an unconscious rage.

Why Falater had the knife with him is uncertain. His sister, Laura Healy, speculates he intended to cut an O-ring out from the broken pool pump. "When we looked at the pump a week or so after Yarm died, it was freshly gouged," Healy says.

But if Falater went to fix the pump in his sleep--and the shining flashlight that police found lends some credence to that--where was his toolbox?

The memory of her brother flailing at her years earlier led Healy to try to help with the blossoming sleepwalking defense.

Falater was about 20 and Healy was 15, she says, when the clash occurred. Healy says her brother walked into the kitchen half-dressed late one night and fumbled with the back door. He seemed to be in a trance.

She leaned around him to lock the deadbolt, Healy recalls, and he knocked her across the room.

"He kind of lifted me up and tossed me," Healy says from her home in DeKalb, Illinois. "It was the spring of '75, and Scott was getting ready to get married that June and he was coming up on school finals, and he was stressing. His face looked almost demonic when he reacted to me, and it really scared the hell out of me and kind of made me angry."

To try to get a feel of whether a sleepwalking defense was plausible, Mike Kimerer contacted Broughton in Toronto. The doctor mentioned a device called a polysomnograph--which determines if someone fits the profile of a potential sleepwalker by recording brain waves and muscle action.

According to Kimerer, the testing of Falater shows he fits that profile. (Dr. David Baratz of Phoenix Good Samaritan Hospital's Regional Sleep Disorders Program, a prosecution witness whose center administered the testing, declined to comment to New Times on the advice of prosecutor Martinez.)

Kimerer enlisted Broughton as his key hired gun, a coup based upon the doctor's compelling testimony in the Parks case and other trials. Local psychologist Dr. Janet Tatman also came on board, and spent several hours interviewing Falater at the Madison Street Jail, where he's remained since his arrest.

Falater spoke in far greater detail to Tatman (his later account to New Times is consistent with what he told the psychologist) than he had to Detective Norman after Yarmila's death. He said he'd gotten home from work around 7 to 7:30 p.m., and ate dinner with his family. Yarmila told him that the swimming pool pump wasn't working properly, and needed fixing.

Falater says he fiddled on his computer after dinner, organizing a church class he taught weekday mornings to teens. His kids went to bed around 9 p.m., Falater recalled. Then he'd briefly checked the pool pump, but didn't finish the job because, he said, it was too dark.

Sometime before 10 p.m., Falater says, he saw Yarmila asleep on a couch. ER was on the television. He awoke her briefly, kissed her, changed into his pajamas and went to bed.

The next thing he claimed to recall was hearing his dogs "barking like crazy," and shouting voices.

So, what does he think happened between the time he went to sleep around 10 p.m. and shortly before 11 p.m., when authorities got to his home?

"Maybe she woke up to hear me out there [near the pool pump] or something like that," Falater says. "And she must have come out to ask what's going on and been out there a few seconds--and whatever."

After his arrest, police locked Falater in a patrol car at his house for more than an hour. During this time, he said, he overheard officers talking, and their conversation led him to believe that his wife was seriously hurt or dead.

He said he recalled little of his subsequent interrogation by Detective Norman.

Falater told Tatman of three or four sleepwalking events between the ages of about 10 and 13 that his mother had related to him, and of bedwetting during that time. During his marriage, he said, he'd sometimes awake on the floor next to his bed or on the living-room sofa and not know how he'd gotten there.

One time, Falater recalled, Yarmila told him he'd grabbed her by an arm while sleeping. He noted other unusual sleeping incidents over the years, which became meaningful to him only after his arrest.

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