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Honeymoon Killer Gets Life Sentence : Penalty for Murder of Wife on Cruise Ship Exceeds Guidelines

October 03, 1989|HENRY WEINSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

In an unusual move, a federal judge in Los Angeles on Monday sentenced a Santa Monica chiropractor to life in prison for strangling his wife and throwing her overboard on the last night of their honeymoon cruise to Mexico.

"This is one of the cruelest murders I've ever seen," said U.S. District Judge James A. Ideman in explaining why he levied upon Scott Roston a stiffer sentence for second-degree murder than called for by the federal sentencing guidelines or a 30-year term requested by a federal prosecutor.

Ideman said that under federal guidelines, a stiffer sentence could be levied against a defendant if circumstances warrant it.

Roston, 37, did not visibly react when Ideman pronounced the sentence.

His mother, Sophie Roston, and Roberta Seaquist of Lantana, Fla., the mother of his dead wife--seated on opposite sides of the courtroom--burst into tears when Ideman said, "I'm going to impose life imprisonment."

'Court System Does Work'

Afterward, Seaquist issued a statement saying she was "thankful" that Roston was given a life sentence.

"Even though I am sad about what happened to my daughter, Karen, I am pleased to see that the court system does work," Seaquist said.

As he was leaving the Courthouse, Roston's father, Si Roston, said only: "Our son is innocent. He will be appealing the conviction."

Roston was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder last March after a three-week trial. Normally, murder cases are tried in state court, but this case was brought by federal prosecutors under a law that provides that murders committed on the high seas are federal offenses.

Karen Roston, 26, was murdered on Feb. 13, 1988, on the final night of a cruise from San Pedro to Mexico on a ship called the Stardancer.

Roston told the ship's crew that his wife had been swept overboard by a strong gust of wind.

The crew became suspicious because they noticed that Roston had scratches on his face and that he went to a bathroom and tried to clean himself up but did not use any of the other facilities in the bathroom.

Claimed He Was Framed

Roston later claimed that Israeli agents drugged him and framed him for the murder because of a 1987 book he authored titled "Nightmare in Israel." In the book, Roston alleged that he had been arrested on false burglary charges in Israel and abused in a mental hospital.

Prosecutors attacked that contention as absurd.

They said Roston beat and strangled his bride on the jogging track of the cruise ship after a series of arguments and threw her overboard from the 11th deck of the ship.

The defense presented no witnesses during the trial, but did introduce a passenger list of those aboard the Stardancer cruise, which included the names of two Israeli nationals who had booked passage.

One of the men later testified that he was merely on vacation and not connected with the Israeli government.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Roston, in theory, faced 11 to 14 years in prison for second-degree murder.

Ideman, however, cited two appendixes to the guidelines that allow judges to impose harsher sentences for "loss of life" or "if the defendant's conduct was unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim."

Michael Adelson, one of Roston's lawyers, made a lengthy argument Monday on why his client should not receive a stiff sentence.

At one point, Ideman interrupted him, saying, "What is perfectly clear is he intended for Karen Roston to die."

But the defendant's mother declared from her seat in the courtroom, "No, he didn't!"

Assistant U.S. Atty. Kendra McNally, who prosecuted the case, said the sentence was "legally correct and factually justified."

In her argument, McNally said, "The murderer sits in this courtroom unrepentant," a reference to the fact that Roston has maintained that he committed no crime.

McNally noted that Roston took 11 1/2 steps from the jogging track to the ship's railing, where he threw his wife's body over the side. The prosecutor said that showed that the crimes were not done in a sudden act of rage.

Roston's lawyer, Adelson, said he will appeal.

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