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    San Clemente doctor accused of strangling his wife convicted of second-degree murder
    • December 20, 2023

    A fertility doctor accused of strangling his wife in 2016, and then staging the body to make it look like she took a fatal fall down the stairs at their San Clemente home, was convicted Tuesday of murder.

    An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for roughly three hours before convicting Dr. Eric Scott Sills of second-degree murder for the slaying of 45-year-old Susann Sills, after finding he was not guilty of a more serious count of first-degree murder. Dr. Sills, who had been free on bail, was handcuffed and taken into custody immediately after the verdict.

    Eric and Susann Sills worked together at the Center of Advanced Genetics, a fertility clinic in Carlsbad. He handled the medical work, according to testimony during the trial, while she ran the business side of the practice. The couple and their twin children — a boy and girl who were 12 years old at the time of their mother’s death — lived in an upscale San Clemente neighborhood.

    On the morning of Nov. 12, 2016, Dr. Sills called 911 to report that he and his daughter had woken up to find his wife’s injured body at the bottom of the stairs of their home. Dr. Sills told authorities that his wife, who had been suffering from migraines that weekend, had suffered an apparent fall.

    But pathologists and investigators suspected that Susann Sills’ extensive injuries — particularly marks on her neck — did not match up to such a fall. Her death was eventually attributed to strangulation. And after a lengthy investigation that included multiple rounds of DNA testing, Dr. Sills was arrested in April 2019.

    Dr. Sills attacked his wife during an early morning argument while their children slept in another room, strangling her with either his hands or a scarf and leaving blood on curtains, a wall, a nightstand and both of their shirts, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker told jurors during closing arguments on Monday in a Santa Ana courtroom. He was then left with the question of how to cover up the slaying, the prosecutor said.

    “Now he has got to figure out in a short amount of time what to do,” Walker said. “He knows what medications she is taking, knows about the migraines, is a doctor. So, literally the only thing available is the staircase.”

    The couple’s son at the time of his mother’s death told investigators he had woken up early that morning to his parents arguing in another room. And the prosecutor noted that during the 911 call Dr. Sills appeared detached and seemed to avoid performing CPR despite the urging of the dispatcher.

    “He wants to delay doing something he knows is unnecessary,” the prosecutor said. “He is the doctor who helps people create life, he knows he has taken it.”

    Walker said investigators hadn’t determined a specific motive, but pointed to several signs of strife in the marriage. The couple were under financial strain, she was frustrated over her relationship with his older children from a previous marriage and he was “fixated” with a topless photo she had posted in a chat room after losing a bet over whether Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination for president, the prosecutor alleged.

    Dr. Sills , who did not testify, previously denied any responsibility for his wife’s death. His attorney, Jack Earley, described it as a tragic accident.

    The defense attorney argued that a combination of medications Susann Sills was taking for her migraines impacted her balance, leading her to fall down the stairs and suffer a spinal injury that left her unable to breathe.

    “We don’t know how she fell, we don’t know if she fell backwards or if she fell into a railing and hit the stairs,” Earley told jurors during his closing arguments. “She hit something very hard.”

    The defense attorney told jurors that the marks on Susann Sills’ neck were caused by the family’s two large, playful dogs tugging on a scarf she was wearing, “strangling” her as she lay slumped unconscious.

    Earley accused investigators of focusing solely on Dr. Sills and argued the pathologist changed her findings to match the police theory about the death.

    “They say they don’t know what happened, so lets throw this theory up,” Earley said of police and prosecutors. “But (they) do want to argue there was some horrible fight.”

    “He is not guilty, he is not responsible for the death of his wife,” the defense attorney added.

    The couple’s children, who are now 19 years old, both testified during the trial. The son backed away from his previous comments to police about hearing a loud argument between his parents. The daughter backed the defense contention that the family dogs pulled on the scarf that was around her mother’s neck.

    The prosecutor noted that both the son and daughter remain close to Dr. Sills, and attacked the theory that the dogs tugging a scarf had caused the apparent strangulation marks, questioning why there weren’t any bite marks on the scarf or rips in the fabric.

    Dr. Sills, now 58, is scheduled to return to court on March 15, when he faces up to 15 years to life in prison.

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    Did San Clemente doctor strangle his wife, or did she die from a fall down stairs?

    ​ Orange County Register