A honeymooning bride who plunged to her death from the deck of a luxury liner drowned after she was choked and thrown overboard, a coroner's opinion released Tuesday showed.
And in a bizarre twist, the woman's husband, Scott R. Roston, insisted Tuesday that Israeli agents murdered his wife and tried to frame him in retaliation for what he claims was his expose of "the countless crimes" committed by the Israeli government.
The body of Karen W. Roston, 26, was found Saturday floating in the ocean about 30 miles southwest of San Diego, after falling from the luxury liner Star Dancer almost 10 hours earlier.
Roston, 36, of Santa Monica, had told investigators that strong winds blew his wife off a jogging track on deck, but the Coast Guard said winds were mild that day.
The FBI arrested Roston when the Bahamian-registered ship docked Saturday in Long Beach. He was ordered held without bail on an arrest warrant issued by the Bahamas, which intends to charge Roston with murder on the high seas, court documents said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Spurgeon Smith said it had not yet been decided whether the Bahamas or the United States will press the charges against Roston.
"I, Scott Robin Roston, have been framed for the murder of my beloved wife, Karen Waltz Roston, by foreign agents," said defense attorney Paul Potter, reading from Roston's rambling, handwritten statement.
"This brutal act was committed because I published an expose last year of the countless crimes of (the Israeli) government."
The statement said Israeli agents tried in vain to kidnap him and U.S. agents pursued him because he had documents showing U.S. government complicity in Israel's "gross violation of human rights." But he gave no specifics.
Potter, who said Roston "may have" received a psychiatric discharge from the Navy, had no details on the allegations in Roston's book, "Nightmare in Israel," published last year by Vantage Press.
Asking President Reagan to intercede on his behalf, Roston said he wants to accompany his in-laws to his wife's funeral. "I promised her mom and dad I'd take good care of her," he said. "I'm sorry I failed."
In a sworn affidavit filed in federal court Tuesday, FBI Agent Lawrence Gallagher said Dr. Douglas Dixon, a deputy medical examiner in San Diego County, told him that results of a Valentine's Day autopsy showed that the woman had drowned, but that there were signs that she had been strangled.
Deputy coroner's investigator Max Murphy said in an interview Tuesday that the case was being considered a homicide.
"What we're saying is that she was strangled and then thrown overboard, where she drowned," Murphy said. "We think she was still breathing a little when she hit the water."
The Rostons were married Feb. 6, just before embarking on a honeymoon cruise of the Mexican coast with 731 other passengers.
Karen Roston's body had a "goose egg-type bump" on the forehead, dark coloration around the eyes, marks "of undetermined origin" on her neck, "indications of blunt-force injuries and abrasions," and a tiny puncture wound below her left breast, the affidavit said.
Capt. Kjell Smitterberg, whose ship is owned by Admiral Cruises of Miami, became suspicious and notified the FBI after Roston told conflicting accounts of the incident to various crew members, the affidavit said.
Roston told Thomas Wildung, the ship's staff captain, that he grabbed his wife's hands as she was being swept overboard, but she slipped from his grasp and fell into the sea. He later told an FBI agent he had not managed to grab her hands, the document said.
Roston told the agent that he and his wife went up to the jogging track very late Friday night or early Saturday morning because she "wanted to exercise."
He stopped for a rest while she continued jogging and he heard her scream, "Scott, help! Scott, help, help, help!" the affidavit said, recounting what Roston told the FBI.
Roston ran toward her voice, the affidavit said, and "saw her holding onto . . . the other side of the rail. He continued toward her and her hands slipped. She fell and held onto the deck. He ran forward and dove to grab her hands but she went out of sight. He never grabbed her hands."
The affidavit said medium brown hair was found embedded in the rubberized jogging track along with a broken earring matching one Karen Roston was wearing in a photograph taken at a shipboard dinner.
Although Roston said high winds swept his wife overboard, a Coast Guard search vessel reported that winds in the area at the time of the incident were measured at only 4 m.p.h. or 5 m.p.h., Coast Guard Lt. Dennis Fahr said.
Asked if such winds could toss an adult overboard, Fahr said, "I don't think so."
Coast Guard officials said the Bahamian government asked the FBI to investigate the death. Although the ship is legally considered Bahamian soil, the FBI can investigate crimes on the high seas in international waters.