January 16, 1997
Scott Falater stabs his wife Yarmila 44 times and holds her head under water, ostensibly as he sleepwalks
Neighbors were alerted to the killing by Yarmila’s screams, which could be heard for up to 30 minutes. “I could just hear her yelling,” the Falaters’ next-door neighbor told radio stations shortly after the killing, “and you could hear her rolling around in the rocks. Yeah, we went outside to see if we could hear it and if somebody needed help or something, and the screaming quit.” The neighbor called 911 and told dispatchers, “The husband just threw, I believe the wife, into the pool; it looked like he’s holding her underwater.” When asked if the couple were fighting, the neighbor replied, “I don’t know what the problem is, I don’t know it’s weird, and I’m concerned.”
The neighbor watched Scott perform several other tasks after throwing his wife into the pool, including quieting the family dog and going inside to wash himself and change his clothes before he came back outside to store his bloody clothing and the knife in the trunk of his car. According to the neighbor, Scott exited his house wearing gloves on his hands. Responding police officers found Yarmila’s body in the pool and the Falaters’ children, ages 12 and 15, asleep inside the house.
Scott did not deny killing his wife, but claimed the attack had been committed while he was sleepwalking. “I remember waking up in my underwear on the floor,” Scott testified at his trial. “The next thing I remember is hearing people screaming and dogs barking. I assumed that I must have gone crazy or something in my head had broken.”
Scott’s defense called two sleep experts who testified regarding Scott’s family history of sleepwalking. Scott’s sister was also called to testify; she recounted an incident in which she found her brother sleepwalking in their kitchen. “I brushed against him and he turned around and lifted me up and tossed me through the air.” The defense also noted that the Falater’s 20-year marriage had been a happy one, and suggested Scott had no reason to kill his wife.
The prosecution asked Scott, “Explain to me then as you’re stabbing your wife 44 times and she’s screaming and you’re moving about, how is that a tiny alarm on your watch can wake you up but her screaming can’t?”
“It didn’t always wake me up,” Scott replied, “and I’m not a sleep doctor. I can’t explain the difference, sir.”
Sleep expert Lauri Leadley examined the case outside of the trial and was interviewed by AZ Family in 2020 about her opinion. Scott had had approximately 50 minutes unaccounted for on the night of his wife’s killing, well outside the typical sleepwalking episode which lasts up to 20 minutes. Leadley was asked if the time discrepancy was realistic. “I think it could happen,” she responded, “although the timing of those events, and somebody to be in a deep state of sleep throughout all of those events, I personally find highly unlikely. I draw the line where he put her in the pool. I feel like he may have woken up and panicked. And then hiding it all. I just don’t believe he was asleep all that time.”
The jury had reached a similar conclusion. “Taking the clothes and putting them in the container, putting the container inside the trunk, cleaning up, changing clothes, that just struck us as not quite believable,” one juror told the press. “After the murder had taken place [he] panicked and tried to cover it up,” another juror commented.
Scott was convicted of first-degree murder and, as such, was eligible for the death sentence. He was given some leniency and was instead sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Falater, Scott. Inmate: 148979. Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation & Recovery. Accessed: January 16, 2021. https://corrections.az.gov/public-resources/inmate-datasearch
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“Sleepwalking Given As Defense by Man In Killing of Wife.” The New York Times. June 7, 1999
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