Wake-Up Call

That's what the jury gave Scott Falater, convicted of killing his wife in the Sleepwalker Murder Case

He suggested that Scott Falater had wanted Yarmila to have more children, but she'd resisted, and that she'd expressed unhappiness with the Mormon church. He mentioned the phrase "unforgivable sin," alleging that Falater had uttered those words during psychological testing after his arrest. Martinez insisted that Falater believed his wife had committed such an "unforgivable sin," and that's why he'd slaughtered her.

"This courtroom is not the afterlife," Martinez said, a reference to the Mormon tenets of "eternal marriage" and other post-death possibilities. "He baptized her into the afterlife."

Kimerer seemed nervous as he started his opening statement, but slowly reached his stride.

"This was a senseless crime," he said. "There is just no reason for Scott Falater to kill the woman he loved more than anything else in the world. . . . The real question was, why did this happen? What went wrong? There was no motive. In short, he was sleepwalking at the time this event occurred."

Kimerer spelled out why a sleepwalking defense was plausible: Falater had been a sleepwalker as a youth. The murder had occurred within the first three hours of sleep. Falater had been under great stress at work and was sleep-deprived. Finally, the attack had happened without apparent reason.

"There is no doubt that Scott Falater committed the acts, but he had no intention of committing this crime," Kimerer concluded.

The key prosecution witness was Greg Koons.
In January 1997, Koons lived next door to the Falaters with his girlfriend. The neighbors maintained a friendly if distant relationship.

Koons' testimony was compelling: In short, his girlfriend had heard something--at first, it sounded to her like the sounds of lovemaking--in the Falaters' backyard. Koons looked over his cinder-block wall and saw a woman--he didn't recognize her as Yarmila Falater--rolling on the ground, several feet from the pool.

"My impression was she was drunk," Koons testified. "I see no blood . . . no problem."

He said he then saw Scott Falater turning lights on and off on the second floor, and watched him wringing his hands in a sink.

Koons said Falater soon stepped outside through an arcadia door, motioning as he did to a family dog as if to quiet it. He saw Falater stand over the body for a few minutes, then return to the house.

Three or four minutes later, Falater returned to the body, this time wearing one canvas glove and putting on the other one. Falater stepped over his wife, dragged her backward toward the pool, then stepped back around and pushed her in.

Koons realized Falater was "pulling her head under the water." He made the first of two 911 calls at 10:57 p.m.

Koons never has explained why he didn't yell at Scott Falater to stop what he was doing. Falater's response, if any, might have settled the sleepwalking question.

Events as described by Koons served as unprecedented testimony in a sleepwalking case, and it would prove devastating. How in the world, jurors later wondered, could he seemingly recognize his dog and not his mortally injured wife? And how could he complete the many complex movements he'd undertaken in such a short time frame?

Phoenix homicide detective John Norman testified that the defendant didn't seem too upset by Yarmila's death during an interrogation after the murder, and did not weep.

But Norman had to admit that he couldn't come up with a motive for murder in the aftermath.

County medical examiner Dr. Philip Keen testified that Yarmila suffered two deep stab wounds to her chest from behind.

The cause of death was listed as "multiple stab wounds with drowning," though Keen said he wasn't sure whether Yarmila was alive when her husband held her head underwater.

Defense witnesses told the jury what a great guy Scott Falater is and what a great marriage he and Yarmila had had.

Most convincing was Liz Biggs, one of Yarmila's best friends. Biggs seemed highly credible, especially because she was the victim's friend, not Scott's.

The pair walked together often and, Biggs testified, "we talked about everything." Biggs said Yarmila never spoke of problems between her and Scott, though "she could be very vocal when she wanted to be. . . . Yarmila's focus was her family. Her church is geared around the family, and I felt it was a good match."

She said the Falaters' family life seemed like "the all-American dream."
Biggs said Yarmila had told her, probably a few years before the murder, that Scott Falater was a sleepwalker.

"It wasn't anything important or significant at the time," Biggs said, adding that Yarmila had described how Falater had rummaged for clothes in a closet in the middle of the night, seemingly asleep.

Prosecutor Martinez asked Biggs if Yarmila actually had used the word "sleepwalking."

"I don't know if she used the word 'sleepwalking'; she may have," Biggs said. "I just know that I just had the concept that he was sleepwalking."

The back-to-back testimony of Michael and Megan Falater brought the depth of the tragedy into sharp relief.

Looking very much like his father, 15-year-old Michael Falater testified in a white, short-sleeved shirt and a black tie.

"It was just like any other home," Michael said monotonally. "We were happy, being together and going places together."

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