Top 10 Cases of Homicidal Sleepwalking

Homicidal sleepwalking is the act of killing someone during an episode of sleepwalking. Homicidal sleepwalking has become a recognized legal defense and a number of people have been acquitted by claiming that they were sleepwalking during acts of violence, others have put this forward as a defense but have still be convicted of murder.

#10 Michael Ricksgers

In 1994, Michael Ricksgers was convicted of the murder of his wife. He claimed he’d accidentally killed her during a sleepwalking episode, which defense lawyers argued was provoked by a medical condition, sleep apnea. Prosecutors presented an alternative explanation: that Ricksgers was upset that his wife was planning to leave him. Ricksgers told police that he awoke to find a gun in his hand and his wife bleeding in bed beside him. He said that he might have dreamed about an intruder breaking in. That didn’t sway the jury. Ricksgers was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

#9 Vernon Silich

In 2010, Western Australia man Vernon Silich was found guilty of the murder of his parents Robert and Faye. In 2008 Silich kicked them to death, while wearing steel-capped boots, as they slept. He pleaded not guilty to the crime and claimed he could not remember the event and woke after a heavy night of drinking and found his parents’ bodies. Silich’s defence told the court that the accused had a history of sleepwalking and had involuntarily attacked his parents, with whom he apparently had a close relationship. Silich is serving a life sentence with a minimum of 19 years.

#8 Dean Sokell

In 1998 Chef Dean Sokell, 27, lay asleep beside his wife, woke up to find himself attacking her with a claw hammer. He had used the tool the day before to repair a headboard and it still lay beside their bed. As wife Eleni screamed, Sokell carried on battering her with the hammer in a frenzied onslaught. In all, he inflicted 31 blows and stabbed her seven times with a kitchen knife. He fled the death flat in Paignton, Devon, but gave himself up to police after sending them a letter saying he had no idea why he had killed her.The letter said:”I just clicked. I woke up clutching the hammer and carrying out the horrific attack. I used the knife to stop the noises she made.”I will need help to understand what I have done and why I have done it” . Sokell was sentenced to life in prison.

#7 Scott Falater

In 1997, Scott Falater of Phoenix, Arizona was accused of murdering his wife of 20 years, Yarmila (née Klesken), by stabbing her 44 times on the night of January 16, 1997. According to an eyewitness, Falater was also seen holding his wife’s head underwater. When he was tried, the prosecution claimed that after the murder had been committed, Falater changed his clothes, put the murder weapon in a Tupperware container, put the container in a trash bag with his boots and socks, stashed the bag in the spare tire well in the trunk of his car, and hid all items that showed that he was the person who killed her. On June 18, 1999, a prosecution expert testified that Falater’s actions were “too complex” to have been carried out while sleepwalking. Four weeks later, Scott Falater was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.

#6 Willis Boshears

Sergeant Willis Boshears was a US serviceman based in the UK. He confessed to strangling local woman Jean Constable in the early hours of New Years Day 1961 but claimed he was asleep and only woke to realise what he had done. The following day, Boshears disposed of the body in an isolated lane. Several days later he was arrested and charged with murder. At his trial in February 1961 at the Essex Assizes he pleaded not guilty on the basis of being asleep at the time he committed the offence and was acquitted.

#5 Isom Bradley

A Texas man, Isom Bradley, testified in the 1920s that he and his mistress were preparing for bed when he became alarmed about an enemy who had made a threat against him. Fearing a secret attack, he went to bed with a pistol under his pillow. Later roused by a noise, he jumped up and fired shots. When he “found himself and got reconciled,” he lit a lamp. His girlfriend was dead at the foot of the bed. Bradley was convicted of murder, but the conviction was reversed on appeal; the jury hadn’t been informed of the possibility that he could have been asleep and have fired the shots without volition while in a somnambulistic state.

#4 Ivy Cogdon

In Australia on the night of 11 August 1950, Ivy Cogdon’s night terrors were so real to her that she did the unthinkable. Her only child Patricia, 19, was asleep when Mrs Cogdon entered her room with an axe in hand, and smashed her daughter’s skull. Poor Patricia was found in the early hours of the morning, dead in her bed, with the bloodstained axe near her body. Mrs Cogdon told the interviewing detectives, ‘I dreamt the war was all around the house. I head Pat screaming and rushed into her room, it was full of soldiers. I hit at them. I remember hitting the bed. Oh Pat, I don’t want to live now.’ On the strength of the medical evidence, the jury found Mrs Cogdon not guilty.

#3 Albert Tirrell

In 1846, American man Albert Jackson Tirrell was acquitted of the murder of his lover Maria Bickford. Tirrell had visited the Boston brothel where the victim worked, slit her throat from ear to ear and then set three fires at the scene. He went into hiding after the crime. Tirrell’s lawyer managed to convince a jury that his client had been sleepwalking when he killed Ms Bickford and was unaware of his violent actions. However, according to the US-based research organization Sleep Forensics Associates, Tirrell’s attempt at covering his tracks by lighting the fires and running away from the scene are not actions that are consistent with sleepwalking. Tirrell’s sleepwalk defence would probably be unsuccessful if he were tried in a courtroom of today.

#2 Jules Lowe

Jules Lowe, 32, of Greater Manchester,England, told police he attacked his 82-year-old father Eddie while he was asleep and had no recollection of the incident in October 2003. The victim had 90 injuries to his body and had been punched, kicked and stamped on. The attack on his father happened after a heavy drinking session. A neighbor called police after she spotted the elderly man’s body on the drive of the family home. After hearing expert evidence, the jury at Manchester crown court decided the attack took place while Mr Lowe was sleepwalking in an “automaton” state and completely unaware of his own actions.

#1 Kenneth Parks

Kenneth James Parks was a married 23-year-old man with a 5-month-old daughter. In the early morning hours of May 23, 1987, Parks reportedly got up from his bed, still asleep, drove roughly 23 km to his in-laws’ home and broke in, assaulted his father-in-law, Dennis Woods, and stabbed his mother-in-law to death. After all this, he managed to drive himself to the police station. Aside from a few isolated events, the next thing he could recall was being at the police station asking for help, saying “I think I have killed some people…my hands.” Parks’s only defence was that he was asleep during the entire incident and was not aware of what he was doing. A jury acquitting Parks of the murder of his mother-in-law and the attempted murder of his father-in-law due to the fact that he was sleepwalking.

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