"Sure I strangled her, Judge, but I was sleeping."
What!? Really? You're going to use that as a defense. Apparently, yes. It's been used 69 times.
Homicidal somnambulism, literally homicidal sleepwalking and colloquially known as sleepwalking murder, is the act of killing someone during an episode of sleepwalking. Occasionally, sleepwalkers kill people, usually a family member, during their sleepwalking act.
In the Criminal Law, automatism is a defense to liability. Except in the case of strict liability offences, a crime must contain two elements: the actus reus or "guilty act", and the mens rea or "guilty mind". This defense seeks to prove that the criminal defendant made only physical movements and did not "intend" to commit the act as required to prove the mens rea". The term describes movements that are characteristic of an automaton, i.e. a machine that moves.
On a more legal basis, the argument has been:
'The defendant was not in his normal state of mind when he committed the act. Sleep walking is a parasomnia manifested by automatism; as such, harmful actions committed while in this state cannot be blamed on the perpetrator.'
SCOTT FALATER CASE
In 1997 another Phoenix man, 43-year-old Scott Falater, was accused of murdering his wife. On the night of January 16, 1997, neighbor Greg Koons saw Mr. Falater hold his wife's head under water. Not clear on what was going on, but having heard screaming, Koons called the police. The police arrived to a gruesome crime scene -- a bloodied pool and Mrs. Falater dead with 44 stab wounds. Scott Falater, present at the crime scene, with blood on his neck and band-aids on his hands, was brought to the police station to undergo questioning. He denied any knowledge of the brutal murder and thus began his celebrated sleepwalking defense. Police video from the night of the murder shows Falater saying he is unaware why he is being questioned.
Like Steinberg before him, Falater claimed he had been sleepwalking at the time of the murder. Also like Steinberg, he acknowledged the murder, but said he remembered nothing about what happened; he was asleep at the time. "He was sleepwalking at the time the event occurred and he had no consciousness operating in his mind at the time, in fact, his brain was, in fact, asleep," said defense attorney Michael Kimerer during opening statements at the murder trial.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez told a Maricopa County Superior Court jury that Falater "had an agenda" when he stabbed his wife, Yamila, 44 times. According to the prosecution, the defendant changed clothes and placed his bloodied clothing along with the murder weapon -- a hunting knife -- in a Tupperware container. He then put the container in a trash bag with his boots and socks and stashed the bag in the spare tire well in trunk of his car. After he killed her he took ... all of the items that showed that he was the person that actually killed her and he hid them," said Martinez. Prosecutors said when police searched Falater's Volvo, they found "one neat little package" of evidence, including the gloves.
In this case there was also an eyewitness: his neighbor. After hearing moaning, the neighbor saw Falater pull on gloves, drag the body over to the pool and roll it in. He said he saw Falater hold his wife's head under water and then the neighbor called 911.
Defense attorneys did not dispute that Falater killed his wife of 20 years and the mother of his two children. But Attorney Kimerer said the evidence would show that Falater should be acquitted because he was sleepwalking when the murder happened.
Dr. Rosalind Cartwright, a sleep disorder expert who examined Falater, said it was possible. "Sometimes they hurt themselves. Sometimes they hurt other people. But this is a state in which they are confused. They're not conscious. They think something terrible is happening and they have to defend themselves so, often, they will fight," she told CNN.
The defense argument was that sleep tests conducted on Falater showed he fit the profile of a sleepwalker and had a history of sleepwalking. Kimerer said Falater was undergoing severe stress related to his job as a product engineer at Motorola, sleeping only two or three hours per night at the time.
As the defense explained it, Falater returned home from work on the night of January 16, 1997, had dinner with his family and tried to fix a faulty pool pump. After getting his tools -- including the knife -- and work clothes out of the Tupperware container in the trunk of his car, he decided to do the repair later, Kimerer said. Kimerer said Falater went to sleep exhausted. His explanation for what happened next was that Falater was trying to fix the pool pump as he was sleepwalking and reacted in a rage when his wife came across him. Kimerer called Falater's actions after the killing "nonsensical and illogical," which he said were typical of a sleepwalker.
Testifying after opening arguments, neighbor Koons said Falater's motions appeared fluid and natural. Kimerer said Koons stated before the trial that Falater appeared "robot-like and mechanical," but Koons denied he used those words.
The prosecution and defense also portrayed differing views of the relationship between Falater and his wife. Prosecutors hinted at marital discord over the family's Mormon religion, with Yamila wanting to be less involved with the church. The defense, however, said the two were "soulmates" and there was no discord at all in the marriage.
At the trial two experts backed his story. Then on June 16, 1999 Falater testified on his own behalf. Falater was asked about the gloves he put on after he stabbed his wife but before he dragged her body to the pool. Would he have thought to wear gloves if he were sleepwalking? On the other hand, if this were premeditated, wouldn't he have put them on before the stabbing?
On June 18, 1999 a prosecution expert testified that Falater's actions were "too complex" to have been carried out during sleepwalking.
On June 25, 1999 the jury returned its verdict: Guilty of First Degree Murder. On January 10, 2000 Scott Falater was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole.
Source: Lakeside Press