Wake-Up Call

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

"Michael, were you close to your mother?" Kimerer asked.
"Yes, I was."
"Close to your dad?"
"Hmmm, hmmm."
"Love your dad?"

Michael testified that his father "was real stressed out about work" before his mother died. "He had a meeting that was gonna come up in the next couple of days."

He recalled Yarmila had asked his dad to fix the pool pump. He said he had kissed his parents goodnight sometime before 9:30 p.m., and had gone to bed.

"Did you see anything at all to give you the slightest hint that your dad would kill your mother?" Kimerer asked.

Under cross-examination, however, Michael said he'd never seen the murder weapon or a Tupperware bin that contained Scott Falater's bloody clothing and other items.

Michael also testified--contrary to what Scott Falater would say--that his father often locked the Volvo, and that, anyway, the hatchback was hard to reach in the cramped garage.

To buy the sleepwalking defense, the jury would have to believe that Falater had made at least two trips to the hatchback and placed his bloody clothes, work boots, gloves and other items in the trunk.

Michael barely looked at his father after he'd finished testifying. Scott Falater turned with a faint smile to watch his only son leave the courtroom.

In the lobby, Michael's sister, 17-year-old Megan, put her arm around him and kept it there. He seemed shell-shocked, and told her he wanted to leave.

Then the jury would hear from Megan, a pretty girl who earned valedictorian honors this year at North Canyon High. She's a fine pianist who plans to attend the University of Chicago this fall.

More outgoing on the stand than her brother, Megan said she'd seen her father angry before, "but I never saw him go into a rage."

Mike Kimerer asked what her mother was like.
"Wellll," she said, gathering herself, "she had a great sense of humor, and she spoke her mind. . . . We were best friends."

That comment brought tears to several jurors and spectators, but Megan persevered.

Kimerer asked her what would happen to Michael when she goes off to college: "We don't know for sure, yet. I'd like for him to be with Dad."

Juan Martinez was tougher on Megan than he'd been on Michael.
"Do you think that perhaps [your mother] might not have told you everything?" he asked, a touch of sarcasm in his tone.

"I don't know," she answered plainly.
Unlike Michael, Megan smiled sweetly at her father as she left the courtroom. Then grabbed her stomach and grimaced as she opened the door and stepped into the lobby.

The purpose of cross-examination should be to catch truth, ever an elusive fugitive . . .

--Francis Wellman, "The Art of Cross-Examination," 1903
Murder defendants testify in their own defense far less often than many people think--and with good reason: Most of the time they're guilty, and they'll have to lie under oath to try to save their skin.

But most criminals aren't as clever as they think they are, and can be easy pickings for a savvy prosecutor.

By law, it was the prosecution's burden to prove that Falater knew what he was doing when he killed Yarmila. As a defendant, he didn't have to prove he was sleepwalking, or prove anything, to be acquitted.

Despite this, his attorneys knew that the burden in reality was on Scott Falater to convince the jury that he had been sleepwalking.

Reinstein's courtroom was packed as Falater took the stand. His dark suit made his jailbird complexion appear even pastier as he adjusted his microphone. He looked about as nerdy and harmless as a grown man can.

Falater bore up well during direct examination by Mike Kimerer. He portrayed himself as a benign man whose life had been dominated by family, work and church.

Kimerer got to the point quickly: "If I'd been a fortuneteller and I had come to you on the morning of January 16, 1997, and told you, 'Scott, tonight you're going to stab your wife 44 times,' what would you have said to me in response?"

"You're out of your mind," Falater replied, his nasal voice breaking slightly. "There is just no way I would have done anything like this to my wife. I would never have envisioned something like this happening to someone like me, or especially to me personally. I don't know what I would do without her."

Kimerer tossed his client a deceptively simple question about how he was dealing with his wife's death, and that he killed her. Falater's answer was interspersed with sobs.

"It still happens where I'll wake up at night, frantic that I haven't called her," he said, looking at Kimerer and, at times, at the jury. "Then I open my eyes and I see the jail walls and I realize what happened. . . . I never saw her dead. It's like I led two lives--one on the outside, where she's always been there. I still dream about her constantly. Then, I have the jail life without her and the kids. It's like they're not connected. And I've tried to think about what it would be like if I'm freed."

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