PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It was the murder that stunned Phoenix in 1997 and a trial two years later that would gain international attention. A devout Mormon man stabbed his wife more than 40 times, then dragged her in the pool, claiming he did the entire thing while sleepwalking and remembered none of it.
"I remember waking up in my underwear on the floor," said Scott Falater on the stand in his own 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."
Falater described the scene in his own words to the jury in his 1999 trial.
"It's very hard to prove to a jury that if you were sleepwalking, you could do all these actions," said Ron Reinstein, who was the judge in the Falater case back then.
Though it was summer of '99 in the hot desert, an overwhelming chill could be felt in the Phoenix courtroom.
"You had uniquely, a next-door neighbor who watched most of this," said Reinstein.
The case would become an international spectacle because Falater's defense was as rare as it was bizarre.
"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?" said prosecutor Juan Martinez during the trial.
"It didn't always wake me up, and I'm not a sleep doctor. I can't explain the difference, sir," Falater said in response.
"Do you think he was asleep during the entire ordeal?" reporter Briana Whitney asked Reinstein.
"Did I believe in the sleepwalking defense? I thought it was well done and well put together, but it wasn't that persuasive to me in the end," he said.
It began two years earlier on a night in January of 1997. Falater's next-door neighbors jolted awake.
"I could just hear her yelling, 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 next-door neighbor told radio stations the week of the crime. Police got to the house to find Falater waiting for them. His wife, Yarmila Falater, was dead in the pool with 44 stab wounds to her body. Scott Falater told them he had been sleepwalking and couldn't remember anything.
But the next-door neighbor told police he watched Scott Falater stab his wife, drag her to the pool, hold her head underwater and, and more.
"Quieting the dog, going up the stairs, turning on a light, taking clothes off, going down to the garage, getting things out, putting things back in the car," Reinstein recalled.
Scott Falater stashed the bloody knife and his bloody clothes in his car, all while his 12 and 15-year-old children were asleep in the house. None of this made sense to anyone who knew the Falater family.
What the neighbor saw
"I was in my car and it came on the radio. And my mouth just dropped and I thought, did I hear that right?" said a woman who worked with Scott Falater at Motorola for years.
She asked us to conceal her identity.
"What went through your mind when you heard the details of what unfolded that night?" asked Whitney.
"When I heard the details, I felt like maybe you don't really know people like you thought you did? Or how could I miss knowing he has that in him?" she said.
A capital murder case with a sleepwalking defense and a gruesome murder was something Arizona had never seen. Scott Falater's defense attorney brought his sister Laura Healy to the stand. She recalled a violent sleepwalking incident 20 years prior with her brother in their kitchen.
"When I did that, I brushed against him and he turned around and lifted me up and tossed me through the air," she recalled.
The defense argued stress could bring on Scott Falater's sleepwalking episodes. His coworker knew his work stress at Motorola was constant.
"It was not a 40-hour job. I'll put it that way. It was a 60, 80-hour job kind of thing," she said.
Scott Falater talked about that on the stand.
"I think I have four or five or six patents, something like that. Like six months long, basically get the chip working by this date, six months into the future. You work long hours to meet that," he said during the trial.
"He would be under a tremendous amount of pressure from his management to get products released on time, so the deadlines that he had to meet were incredibly tough and everybody gets stressed or tense, but I never saw him lose his cool," his coworker said.
Sleep experts testified on both sides of the case. The defense also drove another point home.
"There was no motive that was ever shown," said Reinstein.
The defense said he had no reason to kill his wife. They said he truly remembered none of what happened that night.
"I assumed that I must have gone crazy or something in my head had broken. I went through some scenarios where maybe this was a frame job. I remember Detective Norman pointing out blood on me during the interrogation, which now that I think about it, really confirmed it had to be me," Scott Falater said on the stand with tears in his eyes.
New sleep expert weighs in
Lauri Leadley is a top sleep expert in the Phoenix area now. From an outside view, she took a look at the case.
"What wakes somebody up when they're sleepwalking?" asked Whitney.
"It would be very difficult to actually wake somebody up while they're sleepwalking because they're in a very deep state of sleep," Leadley said.
"When somebody is sleepwalking, what happens in their mind?" asked Whitney.
"In the parasomnia like sleepwalking, you don't remember what you do while you're sleepwalking," she said.
"When you hear 44 times, you think how could he not wake up, she's likely screaming. Would that not wake somebody up?" asked Whitney.
"I agree that it should. Because the movements are very intentional, right? 44 stabs, yes. But you also wonder in that unconscious mind we have no idea what really is going on," Leadley said.
She believes he did have a sleep disorder, but she said usually an episode like this would last up to 20 minutes. There is about 50 minutes of time Scott Falater claims he can't remember.
"Is that realistic?" asked Whitney.
"I think it could happen, although the timing of all those events, and somebody to be in a deep state of sleep throughout all of those events, I personally find highly unlikely," Leadley said. "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 fate of Scott Falater
Ultimately, the jury agreed.
"We the jury, duly and sworn of the entitled action upon our oath do find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree," the court official said.
Several jurors spoke out right after the verdict, unapologetic of a first-degree murder conviction.
"I felt that maybe the first two stabs to Yarmila, but the number of stab wounds and the fact that she was drug to the pool and held under I can't believe he was sleepwalking," one juror said.
"After the murder had taken place and panicked and tried to cover it up," another juror said.
"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," a third juror told the media.
Who did it and why, remains unsolved.
Back then, the judge would decide the sentencing. Reinstein had three choices: he could sentence Scott Falater to death, to life in prison with no parole, or life in prison with a possibility of parole in 25 years.
"You could have put this man to death. What went into your decision to give him life in prison?" asked Whitney.
"You had these two children who had lost their mother, and one way or another, they were going to lose their father. They really didn't want him to get the death penalty," Reinstein said.
Scott Falater will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"Do you feel, to this day, you made the right decision in the sentencing?" asked Whitney.
"You mean as far as giving him natural life? Yes. Yes," he said.
The difference between life and death all rested on whether a man was awake or asleep. The last memory of Yarmila Falater alive is a memory her longtime lover and killer forever claims he doesn't have.
"Do you believe he was asleep when he killed his wife?" Whitney asked Scott Falater's coworker and friend.
"I'm not sure what I believe. Having known him, the only thing that I feel is that whatever state he was in, I don't think he was in his right mind. I think he snapped," she said.