Longform

A Killer Sleep Disorder

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"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."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin