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Montgomery judge rejects Oweiss plea to curb murder 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.

Imprisoned Potomac doctor Zakaria Oweiss pleaded with a judge to shorten his sentence Thursday, suggesting that he was in a hypoglycemic fog the morning his wife was slain and that he couldn’t explain how it happened.

“I don’t know, your honor, if I did it or not,” the 68-year-old told Circuit Court Judge Michael Pincus, marking the first time in court that he has indicated he may have killed his wife, Marianne, who in 2001 was struck in the head at least seven times by an assailant armed with a hard rubber mallet.

Pincus was unswayed and described the case as the most vividly memorable he’d presided over in his long career on the bench.

“He killed her,” Pincus told a courtroom filled with 30 friends and family members of the doctor. “He committed a particularly vicious and brutal murder.”

Pincus chose not to trim any time off the original 30-year sentence he imposed after Oweiss was convicted of second-degree murder in 2003. The 65-minute hearing Thursday was made possible because of a controversial Maryland law that allows inmates to ask for sentence reductions.

Zakaria M. Oweiss. (Montgomery County Police file photo)

Marianne Oweiss’s bloodied body was discovered August 15, 2001, in the basement of the couple’s home.

Zakaria Oweiss, an Egyptian immigrant and well-liked obstetrician who had delivered more than 9,000 babies, maintained his innocence. But detectives built a case against him based on motive (he was upset with his wife’s infidelities) and evidence, which included blood spatter (Marianne’s blood was found on Oweiss’s clothes, hands and eyeglasses).

Detectives concluded that on the morning of August 15, Oweiss left the home but returned to his neighborhood and parked near his house. They said he got the mallet from the garage, went down to the basement and pummeled his wife.

At Oweiss’s trial, which lasted two weeks, his attorney sought to cast blame on the couple’s son Omar who was home at the time. The jury rejected that defense as well as prosecutors’ contention that Oweiss committed first-degree, premeditated murder. Instead, the jury convicted him of second-degree murder, which carried a maximum sentence of 30 years.

Oweiss’s attorney for Thursday’s hearing, Michael Lytle, asked Pincus to reduce Oweiss’s sentence to what state guidelines suggested in 2003: between 12 to 20 years. He cited the doctor’s exemplary behavior behind bars and his failing health.

Five friends and family members spoke on Oweiss’s behalf, describing him as a kind, loving man whose first instinct was always to help people.

As they spoke, Oweiss sat expressionless, looking toward the floor. He was dressed in a large light-blue inmate shirt with D.O.C. stamped on the back, which stands for Division of Correction.

At 3:02 p.m., he rose to speak, starting off so softly that the judge asked his attorney to move the microphone closer to him.

“Your honor, the man standing in front of you today is completely different than the one who was in front of you more than 10 years ago,” Oweiss said. “Your honor, I am an incomplete man. I am a broken man. I am a destroyed man. . . . Also, I am a man who fears his Lord. And by fearing my Lord, I cannot stand in front of the courtroom and admit for something I don’t know, your honor, if I did it or not. And this is God’s truth.”

He spoke about the morning of August 15, 2001, when he was on the way to the hospital: “I got ill. And I have hypoglycemia. My blood sugar drops all of a sudden.”

He said he got “an SOS call from my wife” and returned home.

“When I came back, I found myself next to my wife in the pool of blood. I cannot stand here, your honor, to say I did something I did not do, but I cannot also say I did not do it because I don’t know what happened that morning, your honor.”

This article has been corrected to reflect that Marianne Oweiss was killed on Aug. 15, 2001. The original article stated that she was killed on April 15, 2001.

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.


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