Omar Oweiss, 22, a senior economics major at the University of Maryland, avoided any eye contact with his father when he walked into the ninth floor courtroom of the Montgomery County Circuit Court.
After taking an oath to tell the truth, Omar Oweiss sat in the witness seat next to Judge S. Michael Pincus. He began to tell of the events of the morning of Aug. 15, 2001, the morning he said he woke up to his mother's scream and found his mother lying in a pool of blood at the basement steps of their family home in Potomac.
Across the courtroom, Omar's father Zakaria Oweiss, charged with the first-degree murder of his wife, Marianne Oweiss, 49, sat next to his defense attorney Peter Davis. Still wearing a golden wedding band, Zakaria Oweiss listened to his oldest son's testimony and, like his attorney next to him, began taking notes in a legal pad on the table before him.
The trial began last Friday, Feb. 21, one year after his original trial date and over 18 months after he was charged with his wife's murder in August of 2001.
SINCE HIS FATHER was released on bail in November of 2001, Omar has only been allowed to meet with his father while attorneys are present. Omar, a prosecution witness, said he met with his father with attorneys earlier this month.
"I told him about not wanting to testify. It brings me no joy. It's very painful to testify in front of my father in his case," said Omar.
But Omar, who lost his mother a day after she returned from a summer trip to Egypt, had no choice. He had to testify under subpoena.
"It's very difficult. It's emotional. I don't have words. It's very difficult," he said.
"I've been extremely isolated from my father's side of the family. I'm alone in this. Even my brother [Amin, 19] has trouble talking with me," said Omar, who answered questions, first from prosecutor Katherine Winfree and then from Peter Davis, his father's defense attorney.
"This torment of my family accusing me [of testifying against my father] is not very helpful to me at all."
OMAR TESTIFIED for six hours on Monday, Feb. 24, answering questions from the prosecutor about evidence that would be used against his father and from Davis, whose strategy was to challenge Omar's testimony.
According to Omar's testimony:
The last time Omar Oweiss saw his mother was when he gave her a kiss goodnight the day she returned from a summer-long trip to her husband's home-land of Egypt to learn Arabic and to become certified in scuba diving.
She was killed the next morning, Aug. 15, 2001. Omar said he was awakened by his mother's cries.
"I heard a really loud scream, a pretty long scream. I think I heard my name called out. I got up right away," testified Omar, who was teaching tennis at the Carderock Swim Club that summer.
When he got to the bottom of the basement stairs, leading to his father's obstetrics office, he found his mother "in an awkward position, lying on her face with blood around her head."
He went upstairs and out to the driveway and called for his father.
"He approached me, he came to me. The first thing out of him was, 'She attacked me.' I said, 'Shut up, I'm calling the police.'"
Winfree asked what happened next.
"He said, "Stop, I've got to get rid of this," Omar testified. "I could see a rubber hammer in his hand."
Omar said his father returned two to five minutes later and only after Zakaria Oweiss returned was a 911 call made. According to Omar, his father lifted the receiver to call 911. A few seconds later, a 911 operator called back and Omar was the one to report that an ambulance was needed, that his mother was badly hurt.
But Omar didn't tell police or prosecutors about the hammer until much later. Police never found the hammer in their investigation.
Omar testified that his father had flown to Egypt to join his wife at the end of July but returned before he planned to, after finding out his wife was having an affair. When his father returned home, he told Omar that he and his wife had a physical fight, Omar said.
When Marianne Oweiss returned home on Aug. 14, she had bruises on her face and cheeks, said Omar.
But Davis challenged Omar's credibility. Omar admitted he left out portions of his story when first talking with investigators.
"It's a family case. Your client is my father and will always be my father," said Omar. "This case is family related and I have never been in this kind of position before. … I know I did something wrong. I am under oath again today and I will answer questions truthfully.”
Davis asked Omar why he should believed now.
“I’m sitting in a courtroom next to a judge and the trial has begun. It is the most serious moment,” Omar said. “I don’t want to have any problems after this. I want to be able to move on with my life.”
During re-direct, Winfree asked Omar, "Did you kill your mother?"
Davis asked him if he would tell the truth under oath in a courtroom or elsewhere if he had killed her.
"I did not kill my mother. I don't think I could live a day if I killed my mother."