Potomac doctor convicted of killing wife seeks shorter sentence

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the date of the killing. It was Aug. 15, 2001, not April 15 of that year. This version has been corrected.

March 27, 2013

An imprisoned Potomac doctor convicted 10 years ago of pummeling his wife to death with a rubber mallet is seeking to be set free as early as this year.

Zakaria Oweiss, a once-popular obstetrician, has been a model inmate among a “larger and angrier population,” according to court filings. The 68-year-old writes medical columns for the prison newsletter, referees soccer matches and facilitates anti­violence discussion groups. Oweiss’s request to reduce his 30-year sentence, made possible by a controversial state law and scheduled to be heard in court Thursday, has revived a notorious case known for its stunning brutality and the way it tore a family apart.

But one thing has not changed, according to Montgomery County prosecutors: Oweiss refuses to show any acceptance of responsibility or any remorse. In court filings, they say he should serve the full length of his original sentence.

“The defendant deserves every minute of 30 years,” prosecutor Donna Fenton wrote.

Prosecutors also recounted vivid details of the crime. Enraged over wife Marianne’s infidelity, Oweiss struck in their basement. “The brutality of that attack was almost beyond description and well exceeds comprehension,” prosecutors wrote. “Oweiss struck his wife of 22 years, the mother of their two sons, at least seven times on the head.”


Zakaria M. Oweiss (Montgomery County Police)

At the trial, Oweiss’s attorney suggested that it was the couple’s oldest son, Omar, who was the killer. “Oweiss pursued an unconscionable defense,” prosecutors called it.

Oweiss said in court papers that he’s already been punished and that his sentence should be lessened because of his exemplary behavior behind bars and ill health. He has coronary artery disease, diabetes and hypertension, according to court filings.

Oweiss’s attorney, Michael Lytle, has given the court a petition signed by more than 210 people who support Oweiss. Some of the signers’ comments: “Have mercy. . . . Release this noble man now! . . . Great person. . . . The best person. . . . Doesn’t deserve even one day in prison.”

Omar Oweiss said he will not come to court. “I will not be participating in or attending my father’s hearing this Thursday,” he said in a brief e-mail exchange. “I have nothing to add at this point.”

Ten years ago, Omar Oweiss testified against his father and was ostracized by family members. On at least some level, he has moved on, earning an undergraduate degree in economics and master’s degree in German studies at the University of Maryland, forging a career in international economic development and starting a family in Rockville.

Amin Oweiss, his younger brother, declined to comment Wednesday. In 2011, Amin pleaded guilty to robbery after getting drunk, taking a cab home, telling the driver he needed to go inside and get the $24 fare, returning with a rifle and pointing it at the driver, according to court records. The driver was not injured. At Amin Oweiss’s sentencing hearing last year, he talked about the lasting impact of his mother dying at his father’s hands and their “perfect Potomac life” shattered. He told the judge that he used the incident as an excuse to abuse alcohol but had become sober and was maturing as a person. Amin Oweiss admitted to the cabbie robbery, apologized to the driver and was sentenced to a work-release center.

Until Aug. 15, 2001, their father appeared a genuine American success story. One of 18 siblings growing up in Egypt, he made his way through medical school, emigrated to the United States in 1972, and was soon practicing obstetrics and gynecology in the Washington area. He met Marianne Irmgard, a native of Germany.

They married in 1979 and settled into a home with a swimming pool along Kentsdale Drive in Potomac. During his career, Oweiss delivered more than 9,000 babies.

On that August morning, Omar Oweiss was upstairs when he heard his mother screaming. He rushed to the basement and saw her facedown, with blood pooling around her head, according to prosecutors. He then heard the sound of footsteps, followed it outside and saw his father, holding a rubber mallet, in the driveway. “I’m going to get rid of this in the creek,” his father said, according to prosecutors.

During a two-week trial, prosecutors pointed to evidence of Marianne Oweiss’s blood spattered on her husband’s clothes, hands, eyeglasses and wedding ring. A jury convicted Oweiss of second-degree murder.

Judge Michael Pincus said at the sentencing hearing that prosecutors had made a strong case. “The evidence against Dr. Oweiss, in my opinion, was overwhelming.”

Omar Oweiss spoke at that hearing.

“He’s been a wonderful father. I have nothing bad to say about him. But he made a terrible decision, and it changed the lives of a lot of people,” he said. “In all the mayhem and the stuff of the last two years, my mother has been forgotten. And she shouldn’t be forgotten, because she’s been a wonderful mother.”

Pincus sentenced Oweiss to 30 years, the maximum allowed and a punishment above the 12 to 20 years recommended by sentencing guidelines. In Maryland, inmates generally don’t serve their full sentences behind bars, because they can be credited for good behavior and granted parole.

Convicts also can ask the sentencing judge to lower the original term. Prosecutors and victims’-rights advocates dislike the practice, in part because it makes family members relive the crime. Defense attorneys and at least some judges counter that it is an incentive for inmates to improve themselves in prison.

Oweiss is expected to speak in court Thursday. In a recent court filing, he described having to summon a variety of skills to control prison soccer matches in which players didn’t fully understand the rules. “My emotional maturity has allowed me to stand up to the enforcement of the rules. I can assure you that if [you] can navigate yourself through refereeing all those angry men and take the ship to safety week after week, you can navigate anything in life both in jail and in society.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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