The Sleepwalker Murder Case may be over, but one question continues to captivate the public:
Is it true that Scott Falater talked about a 1980s Canadian sleepwalking murder case with colleagues at Motorola before the murder?
The short answer: no.
This story within the story--what had Falater been chatting about, if anything--and how this got into court and then into the media, provides a fascinating subplot in the nationally watched trial.
The notion that Falater blabbed beforehand to fellow workers about a murder defense so similar to one he would employ at trial was enough to convince an already skeptical public that he'd long planned to kill his wife, Yarmila.
But prosecutor Juan Martinez, despite promises to the court and the media, never proved that Falater had made such comments. To the contrary, Falater's defense attorneys proved that he hadn't said anything of the sort to the woman whom Martinez had put forth as a potential star witness.
Since Falater's murder conviction two weeks ago, this issue has simmered on talk shows, in dozens of e-mails and phone calls to New Times, and on the Internet.
"Sleepwalk Trial Stunner," the Arizona Republic Page One headline of June 3 read. "Defendant Reportedly Discussed Similar Case Before Wife's Death."
The story detailed what had happened in court the previous day out of the jury's presence. Prosecutor Juan Martinez told Judge Ron Reinstein that defense witness Randy Keadle, a friend of Falater's, had called him with "new" information. It included the name of a Motorola employee who allegedly had heard Falater discuss the Canadian sleepwalking case before Yarmila's death. Earlier, Martinez had insinuated as much in a surprise question to another defense witness. Jurors did hear that question, which Reinstein ordered them to disregard.
Quoting Keadle, Martinez also said Falater may have dragged Megan Falater, his teenage daughter, up the stairs by her hair after an unspecified infraction. If provable, that information would have laid waste to the Falater defense that their guy was a nonviolent man whose bout with sleepwalking had led to homicide.
Martinez also told the judge that Keadle had indicated he'd been "told by the defense not to tell me those things, and that is part of the reason why he wasn't candid with me during [a pretrial] interview. . . ."
Martinez's stunning revelations had reporters scrambling for their phones and leafing through their notebooks.
What made things even dicier was that Randy Keadle had testified for Scott Falater on May 27. Then, he'd told the jury that, like Falater, he was a Motorola employee and Mormon church member. Their families had sung Christmas carols as a group and camped out. The two men had golfed together.
"Scott's not a very good golfer," Keadle told the jury, smiling. "Sorry, Scott."
Now living in France, Keadle made the trek (at Falater's expense), ostensibly to say nothing but nice things about his pal.
"They laughed together, joked together, everything," Keadle testified of the relationship between Scott and Yarmila Falater. "From the outside appearance of things, it was a fairly healthy relationship. . . . From my perspective, Scott was a very peaceful man towards everyone. I never saw him violent."
Keadle spoke in the lobby with Megan Falater after he testified. The two Falater children had stayed with the Keadle family for weeks after the January 1997 murder.
He later watched Megan testify about the Falaters' almost-idyllic life at their north Phoenix home. (She also noted, in what seemed little more than an aside, that she and her brother hadn't been happy at the Keadles.)
On June 5, eight days after Keadle first testified, he returned to the courtroom. Megan Falater sat between her paternal grandmother and aunt in the front row, as Keadle told Judge Reinstein his latest story.
About the "hair pulling" incident, Keadle said, "We were told--my wife and I were told by--I was told by my wife that Scott had apparently come home some evening and was upset that Megan had not done something . . . and that he had grabbed her hair and dragged her up the stairs. . . ."
He told the prosecutor, "I came here to tell the truth . . . after my presence in the courtroom, I just felt there were things I had seen immediately after the killing of Yarm that wasn't consistent with the behavior of Scott that I'd known before."
Keadle then launched into what had been billed as the juicy stuff. He testified he'd spoken to a former Motorola colleague about a lunch meeting that allegedly had occurred "three weeks before the murder." During the meeting, Scott Falater supposedly had discussed a book about the Canadian sleepwalking murder case.
Bombshell time? Nope.
Defense attorney Mike Kimerer eviscerated Keadle in cross-examination.
Did Scott tell you he had pulled Megan's hair? Kimerer asked.
No, Keadle said. He'd heard it from his wife, who had heard it from "Angel's mother."
"Who is Angel's mother? Who is Angel, let's start with Angel."
"I believe she is one of Megan's friends."
That's called multiple hearsay.
Kimerer asked Keadle if he'd been lying when he had first testified.
"My testimony was incomplete before," Keadle replied.
"Most of the things you're saying today . . . you heard from someone else?"
Case in point was the Motorola employee said to have passed along the Canadian sleepwalker case information. Had she actually been at that luncheon meeting?
"I don't think so," Keadle admitted.
In fact, Keadle hadn't talked to anyone who had heard Falater discuss a Canadian sleepwalking case. It was all innuendo and, Keadle admitted, his own belief that there were people out there who knew the real story.
"Did you go to the prosecutor and tell him that Megan ought to get an Oscar for her performance in the courtroom?" Kimerer concluded his questioning.
"Yes, I did," Keadle said.
As for the defense team telling Keadle to stonewall prosecutor Martinez:
"The defense attorney [Lori Voepel] told me I needed to be truthful, but that I also needed to be very careful to not voluntarily commit any information beyond the scope of the questions."
That was quite different from the way the prosecutor first had framed it.
"Let me get something straight," an obviously irate Reinstein told the witness. "You changed your testimony. . . . Supplemented it, altered it, whatever you want to call it."
"I don't know that I changed my testimony," Keadle countered.
"I thought I'd seen everything [in 25 years as an attorney]," the judge concluded. "I've never seen anything like this before. I almost feel I'm in the National Enquirer or the Star or the Globe or something like that. . . . There's hearsay and there's hearsay--but here there's hearsay upon hearsay. That doesn't work in this court, and it doesn't work in any court that I know of."
Martinez told Reinstein (and then the media, in an impromptu press conference after court) that he'd be calling Motorola employee Debbie James during his rebuttal case to corroborate Keadle's account that Falater had talked about the Canadian case. Martinez said he'd gotten James' name from Keadle.
On June 11, Falater's defense attorneys met with Debbie James. She told them in the tape-recorded interview that she had spoken with another Motorola colleague about the Falater case "approximately one week within the murder."
It was in that conversation that the Canadian case had come up.
"One week?" Kimerer repeated.
"After," James said.
"After the murder?"
James' admission ended any chance that prosecutors would prove that Falater had ever blabbed about sleepwalking before he killed Yarmila.
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Randy Keadle sat after he testified the second time behind the prosecutor, about 10 feet from Falater. During a pause, the pair made eye contact.
"You're still my pal," Falater whispered at Keadle, who grimaced briefly and looked away.
Was Scott Falater dreaming of playing the video game Duke Nukem when he murdered his wife? His friend and former co-worker Mark Rohrbaugh thinks so. And he's created a Web site to prove it. Read the online exclusive by James Hibberd, entitled "Who Wants Some?"