Guilty of Murder

Guilty of Murder

Zakaria Oweiss scheduled to be sentenced for murder of his wife on May 23.

"Reprehensible," said Katherine Winfree, deputy state's attorney.

"Morally depraved," said Douglas F. Gansler, state's attorney for Montgomery County.

"Really disgusting," said Dr. Thomas Breinlich, brother of Marianne Oweiss, who was murdered on Aug. 15, 2001.

"Inexcusable," said Deborah Armstrong, assistant state's attorney.

Unsuccessful, said a 12-member jury on Friday, March 14 in Courtroom Four of the Rockville Circuit Court.

Defense attorney Peter Davis, however, called Zakaria Oweiss' defense strategy "a valid one."

ZAKARIA OWEISS, 58, murdered his wife Marianne Oweiss, 49, on Aug. 15, 2001 by hitting her head with a rubber mallet at least seven times in the basement of their Potomac home. She was unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes, the medical examiner said.

Zakaria Oweiss' defense strategy was to blame his son Omar, 22, who was upstairs asleep with his girlfriend the morning his mother was murdered.

It didn't work.

After deliberating for more than 29 hours over six days, the jury found Oweiss guilty of second-degree murder. Oweiss faces up to 30 years in prison.

His sentencing — to be heard by Judge S. Michael Pincus — is scheduled for May 23 at 9:30 a.m. Pincus revoked Oweiss' bond immediately after the jury's verdict.

SHERIFF'S DEPUTIES currently guard Zakaria Oweiss around the clock at the cardiac care unit of Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park. Oweiss, a gynecologist, will be under 24-hour guard until he is released from the hospital and transferred to jail.

Oweiss was admitted to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda on Wednesday, March 12 with chest pains, while the jury deliberated for the fourth day. He was transferred to Washington Adventist on the morning of Monday, March 17 for an angioplasty procedure, Davis said. With the exception of Davis, his attorney, Oweiss is allowed no visitors from family or friends because his bond was revoked.

Oweiss and Davis were not in the courtroom last Friday afternoon to hear the verdict, although his son Omar, the jury, judge, clerk and prosecutors were. Via teleconference, Zakaria Oweiss and Davis were piped into the courtroom from Suburban while the proceedings at the courthouse were videotaped for the record.

Judge Pincus asked Oweiss if he could hear the proceedings before the verdict was read.

"Yes, your honor," Oweiss said, his voice crackling with the static of the speakerphone. It was the only time Oweiss spoke before the jury during the three-week trial, which started Friday, Feb. 21. Oweiss did not take the stand during his trial.

After the verdict, people in the gallery were asked to leave while the judge spoke to the jury. The jurors left the courthouse with an escort of sheriff's deputies through a side door. None of them wished to comment on the proceedings. Omar quickly left the courtroom after the verdict was read. He declined to comment on the case.

FORENSIC EVIDENCE presented at the trial showed that Zakaria Oweiss was covered with splatters of his wife's blood on the morning of Aug. 15, 2001.

Emergency personnel and police found Oweiss with small blood stains on his shirt, pants, shoes, watch, pager, cell phone, eyeglasses and wedding ring. DNA testing later showed that 44 blood stains on his pants, 10 blood stains on his shirt, and other splatters were consistent with his wife's blood.

Police and prosecutors never suspected Omar and found no blood on Omar's clothing.

"Not only did the defendant bludgeon his wife to death, but he had the audacity and moral depravity to blame his own son," said Gansler.

Omar was subpoenaed by the state and he testified on the second day of the trial.

"It's very painful to testify in front of my father in his case," testified Omar.

"It's bitter-sweet because of our feelings for Omar," said Winfree, after the verdict. "There's no celebration here."

SENTENCING GIVES family members, from both sides, an opportunity to address the court.

While Winfree and Armstrong will have the opportunity to include victim impact statements from Marianne's family in Germany and others, Davis can include sentiments from Oweiss' past patients, some of whom came to the trial to offer him support. The probation department will prepare a presentence investigation report and Oweiss' past will be examined before Pincus sets his sentence.

If Pincus sentences Oweiss to the maximum sentence, Oweiss would be eligible for parole in approximately "18 or 19 years," Gansler said. The jury found Oweiss not guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Oweiss is entitled to an automatic appeal and he has 30 days after sentencing to file an appeal with the Court of Special Appeals.

"He persisted in maintaining his innocence… the verdict is not an indication that his defense wasn't a valid one," said Davis, his attorney.

Davis and his client have not discussed strategies to be used to file an appeal or for his sentencing because of Oweiss' current health condition.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 23, the same day Omar, a dean's list economics major, is scheduled to graduate from the University of Maryland.

"I want to do everything right. I want to be able to move on with my life," testified Omar.