A Killer Sleep Disorder
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.
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.
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."
"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?"
"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?
That's the sole defense noted Phoenix attorney Mike Kimerer says he'll raise during the trial before Judge Ron Reinstein.
At first blush, it seems far-fetched, almost laughable.
Does anyone really believe that an Everyman, without apparent rhyme or reason, suddenly acts like one of Charlie Manson's acolytes--and in his sleep, no less?
Even Falater says he initially scoffed at a sleepwalking defense, which he considered "bullshit--pure and simple."
"I thought my brain had thrown a rod. And I thought, 'I'm going to the State Hospital, or to the prison for life.' . . . That was before I even knew that you can take drugs that change your sleeping [patterns] at night. At that point, I was saying I'd accept a lifetime probation of living alone--let my kids sleep somewhere else. 'Lock me up on my own, because I don't want to hurt somebody else.'"
Later, he says, "Sometimes when I think about this, I wonder, 'What kind of Jekyll and Hyde am I?' There's no way I would, could hurt Yarm. I didn't know that something like that could be in anybody I've ever known, much less me."
But Falater continues to deny recalling the stabbing and drowning.
Dubious as the sleepwalking defense sounds to the uninitiated, a conviction isn't a foregone conclusion.
On many levels, Falater's case resembles others around the nation and in Canada in which sleepwalking defenses proved successful:
* Falater has a history of sleepwalking. Showing such histories has proved imperative in similar cases.
* Attorney Kimerer says independent testing on a device called a polysomnograph indicates that Falater fits the profile of a sleepwalker.
* Falater was under severe stress at work, resulting in serious sleep deprivation before the murder. Experts cite such factors as classic triggers of sleepwalking incidents.
Falater's defense team will insist he unknowingly killed his wife, a preschool teacher's aide a month shy of her 42nd birthday. Psychiatrists call it "non-insane automatism," a state in which a person has no control of his or her actions, and behavior is robotic.
Sleepwalking may be distinct from dreaming. It seems part of the brain awakens enough for a person to perform complex acts--cooking, cleaning and, in rare cases, inflicting violence. The rest of the brain remains asleep, and the person often recalls nothing of the act.
Most sleepwalking episodes are fairly harmless, frequently humorous: One sleepwalker routinely downed sticks of butter without knowing it. Another had a somnambulistic yen for cat-food sandwiches. A third would wash, dry and fold laundry without having a clue he'd done it.
Still other sleepwalking events have had more dire consequences. Early this decade, an Iowa college student with a history of sleepwalking walked barefoot across a frozen pond onto a highway, where a truck struck and killed him.
And there are the alleged sleepwalking cases--no one knows exactly how many--that have ended in criminal court.
Successful sleepwalking defenses must straddle a middle ground between criminal responsibility and legal insanity. Courts generally have embraced the concept of "non-insane automatism," a criminal act by a sane person that is committed without intent, malice or even awareness.
Someone who convinces jurors that he or she can't recall committing a crime because of a sleep disorder stands a good chance of being acquitted. But the convincing isn't easy.
Scott Falater will be fighting for his life when he goes to trial. Deputy county attorney Juan Martinez has said in court papers that he'll seek the death penalty if he wins a first-degree-murder conviction because of the "heinous, cruel or depraved" nature of Yarmila Falater's demise.
By law, the prosecutor won't have to show a motive for murder. All he has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that Falater planned to kill Yarmila, then did. "Planning" may be as little as a succession of thoughts.
But the fact that there is no apparent motive--quite the contrary--should work in Falater's favor. There is no evidence of serious marital stresses or extramarital affairs, nor of domestic abuse, substance abuse, financial distress or other hallmarks of classic murder motives.
"Yarm and I hadn't even had an argument, we hadn't screamed and shouted at each other in 15 years," Falater says. "I never would have thought of hitting her or striking her or yelling at her."
Nobody but Falater and his two children know the true nature of life in the Falater household. All authorities apparently have unearthed are minor tidbits, such as a comment Yarmila is said to have made to friends about her marriage not being as idyllic as outsiders might have perceived.
Sleepwalking-induced homicide or even aggressive behavior by sleepwalkers is rare, says Falater's key expert witness, Dr. Roger Broughton of Toronto, Canada.
But it does happen.
"Case studies . . . support everyday clinical experience suggesting that such violence is much more frequent than previously assumed," Broughton and Tetsuo Shimizu wrote in a 1995 article.
But Canadian college professor Dr. Meir Kryger warned in a 1995 article, Sleep Medicine and the Law:
"Increasingly, the defense of violent activity has been that the act was committed while the person was asleep, and therefore was not accountable or responsible for his or her actions. The legal implications are staggering. The potential for sleep disorders to become the Twinkie defense of the 21st century is frightening."
In a phone interview from Winnipeg, Canada, Kryger doesn't deny that sleepwalkers can turn violent on occasion.
"But if someone commits a crime, that shouldn't mean they're off the hook," he says. "They need to be treated, to try to prevent it from happening again. One question is a legal one--whether the person should go to jail or not. The other is the fear that the person might do something similar again."
(In England, unlike the U.S. and Canada, sleepwalking does meet legal requirements for "insane" behavior. Judges there may confine sleepwalkers who commit crimes to a mental hospital.)
Falater's mother, Lois Wilcek, ponders her eldest son's plight from her home near Chicago.
"If you tell someone he was sleepwalking, no one will believe you at first," she says. "I've always thought that if someone gets arrested, they're probably guilty. . . . But I've educated myself. It's real. I know I sound like a mom--I am--but there's no way Scott in his conscious mind could have done this to Yarm.
"You try to make sense of his actions, the sequence of events. It's off center. Trying to hide her body in the pool with the lights on? He's technically guilty, but he's morally innocent. He was there, and he wasn't there."
Not being "there" is how Shakespeare described the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth: "You see, her eyes are open. Ay, but their sense is shut."
The Lady Macbeth theory--that Scott Falater was sleepwalking when he killed his wife--is but one of three plausible possibilities. The other two:
* For whatever reason, Falater did commit premeditated, first-degree murder, and knew what he was doing when he did it.
* Falater was sleepwalking when he stabbed his wife, then awakened and realized what he'd done. In a panic, he finished the job by holding Yarmila underwater, then left her lifeless body to float in the pool.
A few months ago, at the request of his attorney, Scott Falater composed a 15-page letter about his life and his relationship with Yarmila.
The handwritten missive covers a number of subjects, including youthful bedwetting and sleepwalking episodes, his parents' bitter breakup, his conversion to Mormonism, his career and his enduring relationship with Yarmila.
By his and his family's account, Falater was a studious, somewhat introverted child. He was the eldest of five children in a middle-class Catholic family. His father was a personnel manager, his mother a nurse.
Falater's mother says her violent clashes with her then-husband led to a family life "that wasn't pretty, not by any means. It really got to Scott, as the oldest."
Despite the dysfunction around him, Falater was a fine student who loved classical music and played clarinet. He cultivated a few close friends on whom he often inflicted his love of practical jokes.
As he approached his teenage years, Falater's letter to Kimerer says, his parents told him about his sleepwalking habits.
Lois Wilcek remembers them well, too. "I remember Scott getting dressed at midnight, glassy-eyed, saying he had to go to school," she tells New Times. "Once as a big boy--12 or so--he walked into the living room stark naked. He said, 'I'm going to school.' His dad put his hands on Scott's shoulders, and Scott resisted him. I said, 'Come with me, son,' and I led him back to bed. You couldn't touch him when he was like that. Nobody thought it was a big deal."
Falater met Yarmila Klesken in a sophomore English class at Riverside's Brookfield High School. He recalls being attracted to Yarmila's intelligence and spunk, qualities she exhibited up to her death. She was a quiet but popular girl with an artistic bent and a friendly nature.
Scott Falater says his future wife was the only girl he ever dated, much less loved. After high school, the pair attended colleges about 50 miles apart in northern Illinois.
They dated about once a month during the school year, but kept in touch. He was studying electrical engineering; she was leaning toward a career in medical radiology.
The two decided to get married in the summer before their senior years. Around that time, Falater converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after a chat with a pair of Mormon missionaries.
Yarmila, also born Catholic, wasn't thrilled with the idea. According to Falater, she threatened for a time to break off the engagement. But she softened, and the couple were married in 1976 in a civil ceremony, with a Mormon bishop presiding.
At first, Yarmila eschewed any contact with Falater's Mormon friends, going so far--Falater recalls--as to leave the room or house when he had them over. That independence at once endeared and frustrated her new husband.
"She was not going along with it [his newfound faith] at all," Falater tells New Times. "She went through with the marriage because she loved me."
After they graduated from college, the newlyweds resolved to make it on their own terms.
"Scott wanted to get away because of how it was when he was growing up," his mother says. "He wanted to just start over, start his own family life, with his own traditions and so on. He kind of cut himself off from what was happening, for which I don't blame him."
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'.
He saw Yarmila Falater, lying on her side, several feet from the swimming pool. He watched her roll over on her back, moving her arms and legs, then stop moving.
A light came on in the second floor of the Falaters' house, and Koons saw Scott Falater in that room. After "two or three minutes," according to a police report, the light went off, and Koons saw Falater go into the kitchen, then living room, then return to the backyard.
"The suspect stood over the victim for several minutes," the report says, "then went back into the house. Three or four minutes later, [Falater] came out the side door to the garage wearing gloves."
With Koons watching, Falater pulled Yarmila to the pool's edge and rolled her in: "The suspect then held the victim's head under the water with his hands."
Koons ran inside and, finally, dialed 911.
Stephanie Reidhead told police she'd heard a woman scream, "Please, no," or "Please, don't," many times before Koons first went outside.
In another interview a few hours later, Koons said Falater had stared at Yarmila after returning outside "for approximately one minute," not several minutes.
He added, according to the report, that "Scott was looking toward his direction as if maybe he heard him, so [Koons] kept his head low while he was looking over the fence."
Koons also said that Falater had been wearing red sweat pants and a white tee shirt.
About the same time Detective Norman completed his interrogation of Falater at police headquarters, other officers began to search the family's residence.
They found a flashlight shining toward a pool pump in the backyard. The ground around the pump was stained with Yarmila Falater's blood.
The family's two dogs barked loudly as the search continued.
On the stairwell leading to the second floor, police found a blood-smeared pebble that resembled decorative rocks that surround the pool.
The police reports do not indicate if officers checked the Falaters' bedroom to determine if Scott had left bloodstains in or around his bed.
But they hit a mother lode when they searched the garage.
One officer saw a bloodstained tee shirt hanging out of the trunk of Scott Falater's Volvo station wagon. He opened it, and found a large, clear plastic container filled with what appeared to be blood-soaked clothing--including blue jeans, socks and an undershirt.
Also inside the container was a bloodstained hunting knife.
Next to the container was a black garbage bag, which held soaked black leather gloves and bloodstained brown leather boots.
The evidence seemed to show that:
* The bloodstained clothing in the Volvo had been worn by Scott Falater when he stabbed Yarmila.
* He'd then returned to the house, shed his bloody clothes, probably put a Band-Aid on his injured hand, and walked back outside in his red pajamas. (It's uncertain if he had been wearing his red pajamas--the ones Greg Koons described as sweat pants and the ones in which police arrested him--beneath his bloody jeans, or changed into them afterward.)
* He likely made separate trips to the Volvo, the first to deposit the bloodstained clothes and murder weapon, and the second to deposit his boots and gloves.
* He'd had no time to flee or cover his tracks.
Though Dr. Ann Bucholtz of the Medical Examiner's Office couldn't tell the order of the 44 stab wounds, she noted that six were to the back, five to the neck, three to the abdomen, 10 to the breasts, six to the front of the neck, two near the left ear, and 12 defensive-type wounds to the hands.
Five stab wounds penetrated to the hilt--at least four inches deep. At least four wounds would have been fatal, the autopsy report concluded, three to the lungs and one to her heart.
The report lists Yarmila's cause of death as "multiple stab wounds with drowning."
"I know in the interrogation I said I woke up hearing guys talking and all that," Falater tells New Times, "but the first memory that I have that can actually convert to what's happening in an unbroken stream of chronology is seeing the cop charge me through the back door. I thought I was getting up out of bed to see what on earth is going on down there. . . . When I hear people yelling and dogs barking, I'm wondering if I wasn't attacking Yarm [then]. I don't know."
The day after the murder, detectives spoke with the two Falater children (though why they didn't interview the pair separately, and allowed family friends to sit in, is unknown).
The siblings described a benign evening, and said they could think of nothing that would have led their father to harm their mother. They couldn't even remember their parents arguing, that night or any night.
The kids said Yarmila was watching television and reading a book in the family room when they had gone to bed between 9 and 9:30 p.m. They said their dad had been trying to devise a computer game for his church youth group.
"I asked them again if both parents seemed normal or either one of them seemed out of sorts," a detective noted, "and both children stated no, everything appeared normal."
The Falater children also are expected to testify that their father would don the jeans--the ones soaked in blood during the stabbing--when he was working around the home, and usually left them and other items in the large plastic container in the Volvo trunk, where police found them. They are also expected to say that he kept the knife with which he stabbed Yarmila in the car trunk as well.
Yarmila was buried at Scottsdale's Paradise Memorial Gardens. Scott Falater was behind bars and couldn't attend, though members of both families attended the services and tried to come to grips with a shocking tragedy.
By then, Falater had hired Mike Kimerer--one of Arizona's most respected attorneys--to defend him. Within a few days, Kimerer had interviewed the neighbor, Greg Koons, in the presence of Falater's mother, Lois Wilcek--who had flown in to be with her son and grandchildren.
Kimerer says--and Wilcek confirms this--that Koons told him a slightly different story from the one he'd told police on the night of January 16.
"I remember him talking about Scott's movements being calm and deliberate and that he had a flat expression," Wilcek says. "'Like a robot,' that's exactly what he said. He also said he thought Scott may have seen him, but that Scott never said a word." (New Times was unable to contact Koons.)
After hearing this, Wilcek told Kimerer that Falater had been a sleepwalker as a young boy and into adolescence.
Within a few days, Scott Falater's sleepwalking defense was born.
In all of us, even in good men, there is a lawless wild-beast nature which peers out in sleep.
--Plato, The Republic
It worked in an 1878 British case, for example, after a father killed his 18-month-old by throwing him against the wall one evening.
Cases in which alleged sleepwalkers have been acquitted have been well-chronicled. There have been mind-boggling accounts of sleepwalking wives stabbing husbands, of a young girl killing her father and brother, of a boy gravely injuring a young cousin, and so on--all escaped imprisonment.
Some common threads run through those cases: The offender claims no memory of the act, there is no known motive and the sleepwalker has a history of other episodes.
"It's hard to prove someone really was sleepwalking if they've never done it before," says Canada's Meir Kryger. "It's so easy for someone to say, 'I don't remember anything. But it's never happened before and I promise it'll never happen again, blah, blah, blah. Please let me go.' It's hard to imagine that someone, in their first known sleepwalking incident, committed a violent act--which is rare even in established sleepwalkers."
Juries don't readily buy sleepwalking defenses. In 1996, for example, a Pennsylvania man was sentenced to life in prison for shooting his wife in the back. The man showed a history of sleep apnea, but his story collapsed after prosecutors showed that he knew his wife was about to leave him.
Probably the most well-documented sleepwalking murder trial concerned the case of Toronto resident Kenneth Parks. In 1986, Parks drove 14 miles to his in-laws' home and let himself into their house with a key they'd given him. He stabbed and bludgeoned his mother-in-law to death--severing tendons in one of his hands in the process--and choked his father-in-law into unconsciousness. He then drove to a police station and announced, "I think I have just killed two people."
Parks did have a possible motive for murder. A compulsive gambler, he recently had raided his family's savings account and had been caught embezzling from an employer.
Evidence at trial suggested Parks fit the profile of a bona fide sleepwalker: He could show a history of sleepwalking. He was under great stress. He said he remembered little about the fatal night, and his story stayed consistent under a barrage of questioning from police, mental-health experts and attorneys.
Charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder, the 23-year-old Parks relied on his sleep-disorder experts--including Scott Falater's expert, Dr. Roger Broughton--to convince the jury that his defense was genuine.
It was a tall order.
Most people seriously doubt that someone can remain unconscious while physically hurting another person.
"I am absolutely convinced in my own mind that the sleepwalking event occurred with homicide," Broughton told the Parks jury, "and that there is no other medically acceptable interpretation."
The prosecutor asked him during cross-examination, "Can a person perform virtually any sort of act in his sleep?"
"I'm not sure," Broughton replied. ". . . People, in terms of their motor coordination, can at times have quite coordinated activity. People have been found sleepwalking who have gotten up on rooftops and kept their balance and walked along and been totally asleep. It is unusual for sleepwalkers [who] get up and wander around the room to trip over furniture or to hurt themselves."
The jury acquitted Parks. Now on medication, he has not had a reported recurrence of violence, according to a 1997 story in a Toronto newspaper. But Parks' wife--who supported him even after he killed her mother and hurt her father--divorced him a few years ago because of his gambling obsession.
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.
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.
Falater told Tatman (and, later, New Times) that he and Yarmila had awakened at the same time the night before the homicide, thinking they'd heard a prowler outside. (He didn't find anyone.) If he testifies, Falater certainly will be asked why he'd been roused so easily then, but failed to awaken as his dying wife screamed.
Tatman's interview may be most helpful to Scott Falater's chances at trial because of his recollections of sleep problems and work pressures shortly before he killed his wife.
In the months before Yarmila's death, Falater was the manager for a new Motorola product line--a sophisticated chip for hard disk drives--that was foundering. He says he was torn between telling his bosses to discontinue the line--which would have meant job upheavals and possible layoffs for members of Falater's team--or just playing along until the roof inevitably caved in.
"I smelled failure for months--I've been around failure before, and I could smell it. We were facing some pretty high hurdles. . . ."
(A source at Motorola confirms Falater's account of the problems, noting that the company did, in fact, discontinue the line after his arrest.)
Falater says he became obsessed with the crisis, which had demoralized him and his staff.
"I had basically come to the conclusion that they should discontinue our product line," he says. "But my main concern was I'd be betraying all the people that had put so much into the product line. I would have essentially ended their jobs if the bosses followed through on my suggestion. I even talked to Yarm and the kids about it that night over dinner. . . .
"Yarm told me, 'Just lie. Smile and play the game.' I told her, 'I've done that too much.'"
The work pressures were wreaking havoc with his sleep patterns, Falater says. In the weeks before Yarmila's death, he says he'd sleep for three hours or less for three or four nights in a row, then would try to "crash" and sleep up to nine hours.
For Falater's sleepwalking defense to pass muster, he had to have fallen asleep quickly on the fatal night--which he says he did: "That was one of my crash nights. I just hit the bed and must have gone right out cold."
Falater says he'd generally awaken at 5 a.m. on weekdays to prepare for his 6:15 a.m. religion class.
He sometimes had trouble focusing at work, Falater continues, and sometimes nodded off during meetings. He took No-Doz (pure caffeine, verboten among Mormons) on occasion when he had to make a presentation.
In the hours before he killed his wife, Falater says, he had attended a meeting at which he had a verbal clash with a boss. Another important meeting with his unit was slated for the following day, Friday.
Falater tells New Times of bumping into a fellow engineer after work, and the two spoke of having to look for other work at Motorola before the ax fell.
A jury will be asked to decide whether his stresses and sleep problems pushed Falater into a sleepwalking state, or whether they simply fueled a murderous rage.
Many people who were in Arizona in the early 1980s recall Arizona's most famous--or infamous--"sleepwalking" case. In that one, Scottsdale resident Steven Steinberg stabbed his wife, Elana, 26 times, then told police that intruders had killed her during a burglary gone awry.
But the evidence implicated Steinberg, and police arrested him on a murder charge. At trial, his attorney called witnesses to testify that Steinberg may have been sleepwalking or in a short-lived "dissociative" mental state when he stabbed his wife.
Defense attorney Bob Hirsh alleged that Steinberg's "Jewish American Princess" wife had driven him mad with nagging and spending too much money. A jury found Steinberg not guilty on the grounds that he was temporarily insane when he'd killed her.
Because he was deemed "sane" at the time of his acquittal, Steinberg walked out of court a free man.
Things are different now under Arizona law. Since 1994, judges have had to impose "guilty but insane" sentences in cases that formerly fell under the old "temporary insanity" model. These days, a person found guilty but insane must serve a sentence at a mental institution that may be as long as if they were sentenced to prison.
In any case, Scott Falater won't be claiming that he was temporarily insane, nor that his wife drove him to kill.
It's a simple defense: Falater didn't know what he was doing when he killed Yarmila, and he still doesn't remember doing it.
"You know what bothers me the most," he says, tearfully, "of all the people I know, she deserved it less than anyone. I kind of wish she had grabbed the knife and done me instead . . . or that she had run away or something. But because it was me, she didn't."
Hearkening to his Mormon faith, he says, "I hope they'll at least let us spend some time together after I die--maybe hug her one more time."
Told of the basic facts in Falater's case, Dr. Meir Kryger expresses sympathy for the task that awaits jurors.
Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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