This story was corrected on April 2, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
After emotional and sometimes tearful testimony on Thursday, Zakaria Oweiss, a Potomac doctor convicted 10 years ago of bludgeoning his wife to death, lost his appeal to get out of prison early.
“The sentence in this case fits the crime,” said Judge Michael Pincus, who was the judge at the original trial in 2003, when Oweiss was convicted of second-degree murder. “The motion for modification is denied.”
About 30 family members and friends attended the hearing at Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Under Maryland law, a judge can modify a prisoner’s sentence. Pincus originally sentenced Oweiss to 30 years, the maximum allowed and well beyond the 12 to 20 years recommended by sentencing guidelines.
In Maryland, inmates are generally eligible for parole after they have served at least 50 percent of their sentence.
The courtroom, packed with the defendant’s friends and family, let out moans and gasps when the judge read the verdict.
“We are very pleased the judge upheld the verdict,” said Donna S. Fenton, the prosecutor for the state.
The physician made headlines in 2003 when he was accused of fatally striking his wife, Marianne, in the head with a rubber mallet. He was 58 at the time; she was 47. The seven blows were so severe, they fractured her skull and damaged her brain, said Pincus, who described the case as “particularly vicious and brutal.”
Zakaria and Marianne grew up in other countries — he in Egypt, she in Germany. They married in the U.S. in 1979 and had two boys, Omar and Amin. Marianne was the office manager and bookkeeper of his practice.
Zakaria was a well-liked doctor who practiced obstetrics and gynecology. One of his former patients spoke on his behalf at the hearing.
Iman Elagazy said Zakaria, who delivered her second child, was “like a father to me.” She described him as “loving and caring” and always willing to help out.
Zakaria’s nephew also spoke, calling his uncle “all heart.” He spoke of his uncle’s “helpful nature and unconditional love” saying that Zakaria is “just a very loving man.”
His sister-in-law, Celine Oweiss, called Zakaria a “dedicated family man” whose “love and protection of his two sons had no boundaries.”
The same could not be said about Zakaria’s treatment of his wife, according to the state’s documents on the motion for modification, which illustrated Zakaria’s violent side.
In a trip to Egypt, shortly before Marianne’s murder, Zakaria became convinced his wife was having an affair with a mutual friend. At the apartment building where he and Marianne were staying, Zakaria beat his wife until she was bleeding around the mouth and her eyes were blackened, according to the document.
A week later, she returned home. The day after that, she was dead.
On Aug. 15, 2001, Omar Oweiss was sleeping at home when he heard his mother screaming for help. When he ran down to the basement, he found his mother face down in a frog-like position in a pool of blood.
Omar heard footsteps, and when he followed the noise outside, he saw his father at the top of the driveway, holding a rubber mallet. He told Omar not to call the police saying, “No, wait. I’m going to get rid of it in the creek,” regarding the mallet.
During a two-week trial in 2003, the state presented what the judge called overwhelming evidence of Zakaria’s guilt. Not just his son’s eyewitness account, but blood on Zakaria’s glasses, wedding ring and clothing, and blood-spatter patterns consistent with Zakaria being the perpetrator.
That did not stop Zakaria’s defense team from pointing the finger at Omar and claiming he was the killer.
That tactic, and the fact that Oweiss never admitted any culpability, has turned the family against Omar, according to documents.
Omar was not at the hearing, but the prosecutor read some of his words in the courtroom. Omar, she said, had not just lost his mother, but his whole family.
“Because of this defense, I have been shunned by the Egyptian part of my family,” Fenton said Omar had written. “I’ve been exiled through these lies.”
In 2003, right before he went on trial, Zakaria tried to sue the estate of Marianne, claiming she had embezzled from him. He sought $900,000 in reimbursement. A judge threw out the lawsuit.
Once convicted, Zakaria was no longer an eligible beneficiary to his slain wife’s estate.
When Zakaria finally spoke at the hearing, he, just like his supporters before him, made no mention of Marianne by name and no acknowledgment of guilt. The closest he came was a blanket apology for all the errors he had made in life.
“I regret all the mistakes I did. I am not denying anything, if I was involved,” Zakaria said.
He also claimed he was attacked that April morning and that he had heard someone threaten to kill him and his children. “This is God’s truth — I don’t know what happened,” he said.
The prosecutor showed no such confusion. She reminded the judge that Zakaria has never accepted responsibility and that the real victim is Marianne.
“She never got to say goodbye, She never saw her sons marry,” Fenton said. “She’ll never see her grandchildren.”
The original version of this story misstated the date of Marianne Oweiss’ death. It was Aug. 15, 2001.