A Killer Sleep Disorder

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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.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin