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'Sleepwalking Killer' Convicted In Wife’s 1997 Murder Says He Still Doesn’t Recall Committing The Act

Neighbors said they saw Scott Falater drowning his incapacitated wife Yarmila Falater in their backyard pool in 1997. His lawyers later argued, unsuccessfully, that the grisly killing was the result of a sleep disorder.

By Kevin Dolak
Scott Falater G

An Arizona man dubbed the “sleepwalking killer” after stabbing his wife dozens of times and drowning her in their backyard pool is maintaining in a new interview from prison that he still has no recollection of the grisly 1997 killing. 

Scott Falater was convicted in 2000 of the first-degree murder of his wife, Yarmila Falater, at their Phoenix home, three years after he stabbed her 44 times and held her head underwater in their pool. In a new interview with ABC’s “20/20,” the former electrical engineer said he still has no idea what happened that night or why he brutally killed his wife.  

“All I can say is I do not know what happened. I do know for sure I never planned it. There was nothing for me to gain from it,” Falater told “20/20” producers from the Yuma Prison Complex. “There’s no one else I can place the responsibility [on]. It’s on my shoulders, I accept that and I have to move on.”

On the night of Jan. 17, 1997, after preparing a lesson plan for the Mormon religious education class he taught and briefly working on fixing an issue with their pool, Falater said that he found his wife asleep on the couch. He kissed her goodnight, and went upstairs to bed, according to ABC News. The next thing he remembers, he said, he was standing at the top of the stairs in his home in his pajamas, with a police officer pointing a gun at him and yelling for him to get to the floor. 

Officers arrived at the home after their neighbors, one of whom later testified at Falater’s trial, told them that they saw him drag an incapacitated woman to the pool and hold her head underwater. When officers arrived, they found Yarmila Falater floating in the blood-filled pool, a scene eerily reminiscent of a shark attack, they said.

Falater, who said he was “hopelessly confused at first,” told the officer standing at the bottom of his stairs that there were three other people in the home — his wife and their two children. Phoenix Police officer Joel Tranter told ABC News that this had surprised him, as he’d already seen Yarmila Falater’s body floating in the pool. He had no explanation for what had happened, Falater told them. 

Confused and disoriented, as he told producers, Falater was taken in for questioning, where a detective pointed out that he had blood on his neck. When he was told that his wife had been stabbed and the neighbors had seen him drown her, he seemed “stunned,” ABC News reported. 

“I’ve been married all my adult life,″ Falater reportedly told detectives through tears at the time. “She didn’t deserve to die. She was a good wife. She was a great mother.”

He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

In his trial, which began in June 1999, prosecutors in Maricopa County sought the death penalty. Jurors were told that Yarmila Falater had been stabbed 44 times, and that “most were defensive wounds, but some were fatal.” They were also told Falater had put gloves on before killing his wife, and that afterward, he bandaged a cut on his finger, the Associated Press reported in 1999. Police said that bloody clothes and a knife were found in his van, indicating that he had tried to cover up his actions. 

After speaking with Falater’s mother and sister, who described numerous, sometimes violent sleepwalking incidents during his youth, his attorney decided to nix a planned insanity defense and build a case around somnambulism. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, somnambulism is a disorder of arousal that occurs during N3 sleep, the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement sleep. It usually begins one to two hours after falling asleep, and generally lasts several minutes, but has been known to last longer. Sleep disorders expert Richard Bootzin told the AP that violence during sleep is extremely rare, but did mention instances of sleepwalkers stepping out of upper-story windows, throwing their children out windows, and driving cars.

Dr. Roger Broughton and Dr. Rosalind Cartwright, two of the world’s leading sleep experts at the time, testified at Falater’s trial that he could have killed his wife while sleepwalking, telling the court that if she had disturbed him in his sleep, he could have perceived her as a threat. But on cross-examination, Broughton did admit that for a sleepwalker to do as many specific and complicated actions as Falater had — including committing a violent crime, hiding evidence, and changing his clothes — is unusual. 

Falater even took to the stand at his trial, telling jurors that his wife was his high school sweetheart and they wanted to be together forever, The Arizona Republic reported.

"There was no way I could do that, not intentionally," Falater told the court, crying at times. "I loved her. I don't know what I would do without her."

Prosecutors painted their marriage as not so perfect, however. They said that Falater had a desire for more children that wasn’t shared by his wife and that she was unhappy with the family's Mormon faith, which they’d both converted to after being raised Catholic, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors also reportedly told the court that her body was found without her wedding ring.

On June 25, 1999, the jury found Falater guilty. At his 2000 sentencing, after hearing from his two kids who pleaded for their father’s life, the judge decided against the death penalty and sentenced Falater to life without parole. 

While serving his sentence, Falater has kept in close contact with his children on the phone, through visits, and over video calls amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He told ABC News that he will never forgive himself for what he did and that he will always love his wife.

“We were meant for each other,” Falater said. “I never doubted that and I still don’t doubt that. So, I will miss her until the day I die.”

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