One by one, they rose from their seats in a Montgomery County courtroom -- members of Zakaria Oweiss's large family, along with friends of the Potomac physician, people whose illnesses he had treated, whose babies he had delivered.
Standing before a judge and crowded gallery, they recounted the times that Oweiss had hurried to their side in the middle of the night, refused to accept a fee or opened his wallet to help them. They spoke of his fierce devotion to his two sons. They talked of his struggle for wealth and success after emigrating from Egypt to study medicine more than 30 years ago. Above all, they pleaded with Circuit Court Judge S. Michael Pincus to show mercy when passing sentence on Oweiss for the murder of his wife, Marianne Oweiss.
But Oweiss,59, got the maximum: 30 years in prison.
Pincus said he had no doubt that Oweiss was guilty.
Throughout the emotional three-hour hearing, one family member sat apart and silent. After a defense lawyer called the last of nearly two dozen people to speak on the doctor's behalf, it was the prosecutors' turn, and they called just one: Omar Oweiss,the doctor's older son and the state's star witness.
During the trial, Omar Oweiss acknowledged that he initially lied to police to protect his father. But he provided crucial testimony to prove that his father had beaten his mother to death with a hammer in their Kentsdale Road home Aug. 15, 2001. Prosecutors said Oweiss acted in rage because his wife was cheating on him. Awakened by his mother's screams, Omar Oweiss said, he ran to her and found his father nearby, pacing with a hammer in his hand.
The defense argued that Omar Oweiss was the killer. His family, viewing his testimony as an act of betrayal, shunned him.
Yesterday, in a deep baritone voice that echoed his father's, Omar Oweiss spoke.
"Everything you've heard today is very true. He's been a wonderful father. He's a wonderful man. He's touched the lives of thousands of people, and this is a tiny fraction of what he's done and what he's accomplished in his life,'' Oweiss said. "But you've only heard one side.''
He said he was in a difficult situation that had not been of his choosing.
"All I can say is that the way my mother and father raised me, they've raised me to take responsibility for my actions and to do the right thing at all costs, even if it means to stand alone, which is exactly what I am doing,'' Oweiss said.
"But he made a terrible decision, and it changed the lives of a lot of people here, and it affected his sons greatly. This selfless man -- this wonderful man -- was selfish one time and did not consider the consequences of his actions for his two sons. Forget about the other people -- these two sons are the two victims, me and my brother.''
As he spoke, his father, looking wan and thin in a baggy black suit, began to weep. Omar continued:
"I do this for my mother and for my father because I truly believe -- and I know -- that he would want me to do this at all costs, and I'm doing it at all costs,'' he said, adding that it was "disgusting'' how others in his family had denied the reality of the case. He said he had no recommendation for the judge's sentence.
Defense attorney Peter Davis asked the judge to sentence Oweiss within state guidelines of 12 to 20 years for the second-degree murder. Deputy State's Attorney Katherine S. Winfree, after attacking as "reprehensible" the defense's strategy of blaming Omar Oweiss,urged the court to impose the maximum of 30 years.
After Zakaria Oweiss was led away and most of the courtroom was empty, Omar Oweiss buried his head and sobbed.