Fertility Doctor Convicted of Killing Wife in San Clemente

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Fertility Doctor Convicted of Killing Wife in San Clemente

The Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, Calif., on Oct. 22, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

12/20/2023

Updated: 1/12/2024

SANTA ANA, Calif.—A fertility doctor was convicted of second-degree murder Dec. 19 for killing his wife in their San Clemente home.
Eric Scott Sills, 58, was convicted for the Nov. 13, 2016, death of 45-year-old Susann Stephanie Arsuaga Sills.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before reaching their verdict. Sentencing was scheduled for March 15.
On Monday, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker told jurors that Mr. Sills was “smacking around” his wife before strangling her and then staging her death as an accident. But the doctor’s attorney, Jack Earley, questioned the integrity of the investigation of his client, and insisted that the migraine-suffering victim stumbled down the stairs and sustained a fatal spinal injury.
“We were disappointed,” Mr. Earley said after the verdict. “We don’t know what the jurors looked at. It will be interesting if we ever do. What was the reason that turned them?”
Two major issues in the trial included blood on drapes in the victim’s room and marks on the victim’s neck indicating she was choked. Ms. Walker argued the victim’s husband strangled her, while Mr. Earley contended the family’s two large dogs pulled on a scarf she was wearing.
One of the jurors told Ms. Walker after the verdict that the panel discounted the defense’s theory on the neck injuries nearly right away.
“He was the one who strangled Susann,” Ms. Walker said of the defendant during her closing argument. “It wasn’t the stairs ... It wasn’t the dogs ... We know he’s smacking her around before [killing her].”
Arguing for a first-degree murder conviction, Ms. Walker noted that experts say it takes several minutes to choke someone to death, long enough for someone to reconsider their actions and stop.
“Three minutes. That’s a long time to ... squeeze the life out of someone,” Ms. Walker said, referring to the legal requirement for premeditation and deliberation required for a first-degree murder conviction.
Jurors were also given the options of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, with the panel ultimately opting for second-degree murder.
Ms. Walker was put on the defensive somewhat during the trial when the defendant’s twins, who are now 19 and were 12 at the time of the killing, appeared to back up their father’s explanations of what happened to their mother.
“It’s a tough position for the people,” Ms. Walker acknowledged, adding that she did not wish to vigorously cross-examine the defendant’s children.
“Both of them met with the defendant multiple times and prepared for their testimony,” Ms. Walker said.
Ms. Walker, instead, relied on statements they made to investigators soon after their mother’s death.
The prosecutor also questioned the defendant’s daughter’s claim of post-traumatic stress disorder-induced blackouts of memory.
Ms. Walker defended the coroner on the case, Dr. Nicole Ellis, who was accused by the defense of vacillating on a cause of death.
“Now she’s being raked over the coals because she took her time to get it right,” Ms. Walker said, referring to the three years before prosecutors filed charges.
At the time Ms. Ellis performed the autopsy, she had done 2,300 of them with a handful of strangulation cases, Ms. Walker said. As of the trial, she had performed 4,136 autopsies and nine strangulation cases, the prosecutor added.
Ms. Walker argued that the victim had bruising on her hands and forearms consistent with “defensive wounds” made while fighting back against her killer.
“She never once gave a different cause of death,” Ms. Walker argued of Ms. Ellis. “And there’s no spinal cord injury ... She never changed her opinion. This has always been strangulation.”
Ms. Walker also pointed to the opinion of Dr. Anthony Juguilon, another coroner who “thought the cause of death was strangulation. He thought the same thing in 2016.”
Ms. Walker also questioned why the victim would have been wearing a t-shirt with blood on it.
“You don’t put on dirty, bloody comfy clothes” after work, Ms. Walker said. “Why is his blood all over her shirt?”
Ms. Walker told jurors the defendant’s DNA was under the victim’s fingernails.
Ms. Walker argued that the defendant was infuriated by the victim posting a topless photo of herself on an online chat group when she lost a bet with others about former President Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination. A copy of the post “is on [Sills’] phone and printed in his office,” Ms. Walker said.
The prosecutor also said the couple had been arguing and noted one text message sent to her husband saying, “I am trapped—there is no way out.”
“She wants out,” Ms. Walker said. “He’s not going to let that happen.”

Defandant’s Argument

Mr. Earley argued that if the victim and defendant were in a life-and-death struggle, the son and daughter would have heard something.
“Don’t you think she'd make a peep?” Mr. Earley said. “All of that happens before she died and there isn’t a peep?”
Mr. Earley sought to explain away the “elephant in the room” regarding the bloody drapes in the room the victim was sleeping in as the result of an earlier cut while changing out a screen. He told the jurors that there appeared to be an “impression” of a hand in the stain.
The couple’s daughter had discussed replacing the curtains previously, Mr. Earley argued.
“And I guess he also cleaned the carpet [in the bedroom] without disturbing the dog hairs,” Mr. Earley said.
The defense attorney said the victim had valium in her system and had gone a day or two without eating before she fell down the stairs.
“So it’s having its effect,” he said of the drug. “And we know it’s late at night. And we don’t know how she fell.”
Mr. Earley also poked at the prosecution’s claim that the stairs were not steep enough for a woman of the victim’s size to suffer a fatal fall. He said the calculations were “30 percent off.”
The defense attorney said that while the two would argue at times it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“I don’t think there’s any motive proven here,” he said.
He characterized the prosecution’s explanations for motive as “very exotic theories.”
Mr. Earley also argued that one investigator on the case took notes quoting Ms. Ellis as initially saying the victim’s injuries were consistent with a fall.
Mr. Earley also said that Mr. Sills agreed to take the topless photo of his wife and was in on the joke, but when he got too busy at work their daughter took it instead.
Mr. Earley said Susann Sills was an indispensable part of the couple’s Center for Advanced Genetics fertility clinic in Carlsbad. She was the center’s nurse, receptionist, and office manager, he said.
Before she died, the victim had taken valium, which is a muscle relaxant, and Tramadol, a painkiller, to treat her migraine, but the two aren’t meant to be mixed. He also said she struggled with a “fainting disorder,” and vertigo when her migraines hit their hardest, he said.
The scarf was used in case she felt nauseous and had to wipe her face.
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