Scott Roston, a Santa Monica chiropractor who claimed that his bride was murdered by Israeli agents in a campaign of terror against him, was convicted Wednesday of strangling her himself and throwing her overboard on the last night of their honeymoon cruise.
Roston, 36, sagged when a Los Angeles federal court jury found him guilty of second-degree murder on the high seas. His lawyer said he would challenge the authority of American officials to prosecute the killing, which occurred outside U.S. territorial waters.
"He's disappointed," defense attorney David Kenner said after the verdict. "Scott feels that it's incomprehensible for anyone to believe that he would have killed his wife that he loved very dearly."
But Assistant U.S. Atty. Kendra McNally described Roston as a man who made up elaborate stories to cover up the "violent and brutal killing" of the woman he professed to love.
Scoffed at Claim
Prosecutors scoffed at Roston's claim that Israeli agents drugged him and then framed him for Karen Roston's Feb. 13, 1988, murder because of a book he wrote, "Nightmare in Israel," which alleged that he had been arrested on false burglary charges in Israel and abused in a mental hospital.
"The defense was absurd. His claim was absurd," U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner said at a news conference.
After the verdict, which ended 2 1/2 days of deliberations, Roston was led away by federal marshals. He hesitated briefly near his mother, who was biting back tears. "I love you," he mouthed.
On the opposite side of the courtroom, Karen Roston's mother, Roberta Seaquist of Lantana, Fla., sat crying.
The defense presented no witnesses during the trial, but did introduce a passenger list of those aboard the Stardancer cruise from San Pedro to Mexico, which included the names of two Israeli nationals who had booked passage after the Rostons.
Kenner claimed that he was unable to locate either of the men. But the prosecution called one of them on the last day of trial as a surprise witness. The man, a Jerusalem photographer, laughingly denied any connections to the Israeli government and said he was simply on vacation.
Kenner questioned him closely about his extensive world travels and then asked the jury how a wedding photographer could afford to journey around the globe.
After the verdict was read, jurors said they never took Roston's claims about the Israeli agents seriously. Many said they were most troubled by Roston's conflicting stories, in which he first said his wife had been blown overboard by the wind, then asserted that he hadn't seen what happened, then said the Israeli agents had done the killing.
"I think he damned himself," said juror Patricia Kellogg, a Lake Elsinore housewife. "I think if you take the whole thing, it just didn't make a picture of a normal relationship and a normal, stable person."
Prosecutors never alleged that the killing was premeditated and they also never pointed to a motive. But McNally suggested that Roston, a fitness enthusiast, had been constantly irritated by his wife's indulgence in sweets.
Other passengers testified that Roston frequently seemed annoyed at his wife, on one occasion because of her eating habits, on another because she was unsure what silverware to use.
Forewoman Theresa Mahadocon, an accountant from Riverside County, said the deliberations were prolonged somewhat by one juror who kept looking for a reason for the killing. "She couldn't understand why on a honeymoon would a man take his wife's life," Mahadocon said. "I think that bothered all of us."
Karen Roston's mother made a brief statement, saying she and her husband were "very happy" about the outcome of the trial. "It won't bring my daughter back," she said, "but under the circumstances, it couldn't have worked out any better, and I do feel great compassion for Dr. and Mrs. Roston," referring to the convicted man's parents.
Kenner said he will appeal the conviction, arguing that U.S. authorities had no jurisdiction to try the case because it occurred on a ship under Bahamian registry. "I also think there's an insufficiency of the evidence argument to be made," he said.
But McNally said the U.S. had clear authority to prosecute Roston because the ship was at least in part owned by American citizens.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Roston faces 11 to 14 years in prison. But U.S. District Judge James M. Ideman could sentence him to up to life in prison if he finds the case raises special issues not considered in the guideline range. Sentencing was set for June 5.