Watch CBS News

A California doctor said his wife died in an accidental fall. Her injuries told a different story.

The Puzzling Death of Susann Sills
The Puzzling Death of Susann Sills 41:44

On Nov. 13, 2016, Dr. Eric "Scott" Sills, a renowned California fertility doctor, called 911 and reported finding his wife and business partner Susann Sills unresponsive at the bottom of the stairs.  An initial investigation revealed some evidence that was consistent with an accidental fall. But as "48 Hours" correspondent Tracy Smith reports, other evidence pointed to something more sinister.


On that Sunday morning, Orange County Sheriff's Homicide Detectives Eric Hatch and Dave Holloway had more questions than clues.

Tracy Smith: At that point in time that morning November 13th, was Scott Sills a victim or a suspect?

Det. Dave Holloway: To us … he was a victim. … We were going to a house where two kids and a husband just lost their wife and mother.

Tracy Smith: Is it a steep stairway?

Det. Eric Hatch: Yeah, it's pretty high. I believe it was 13-and-a-half feet from the floor to the top of the stairs.

Tracy Smith: Did it seem plausible that a 45-year-old woman, in pretty good shape, would've fallen down the stairs to her death?

Det. Eric Hatch: At the time, it sounded believable.

Det. Dave Holloway: Susann had injuries to pretty much her whole body. … Her face … was all bruised up. Her … back was bruised up. … Both arms and legs were — had bruising and abrasions.

And around her body was an odd collection of items — a stainless steel soup pot, a purse and  an empty medication bottle. A scarf was found  off to the side.

Det. Eric Hatch: They definitely stood out … especially that steel pot. … It almost looked like it was placed there. It wasn't upside down or leaning against anything.

Det. Dave Holloway: We had to … figure out why those things were there.

The detectives say Scott Sills didn't seem nervous that a homicide team was in his home asking questions.

Det. Eric Hatch: He was just kind of going with the flow.

Tracy Smith: How cooperative was he?

Det. Dave Holloway: Oh, very. … Everything we asked of him … he, he gave us.

Det. Eric Hatch: He signed a consent form, that … gave us the permission to search his house.

And when they interviewed the Sills' children, 12-year-old twins Mary-Katherine and Eric, each told a similar story to their dad — that Susann Sills had not been feeling well that night.

Det. Dave Holloway: Susann … had a history of migraines. … They were typically debilitating … requiring … a dark room, quiet … and bed rest. And she had been suffering from a migraine that weekend.

Sills soup pot evidence
"We could see the other things laying around like this stainless-steel soup pot ... a purse ... an empty medication bottle," said Det. Dave Holloway. Orange County Superior Court

The migraine seemed to explain that large pot.

Det. Dave Holloway: Sometimes she carried around a bowl … in order to have it near her bedside in case she threw up in the middle of the night.

And the empty pill bottle was for a pain medication Scott Sills said his wife took to treat her migraines.

Tracy Smith: So, did that make it sound more possible that she could've fallen down the stairs because she was suffering from a migraine?

Det. Eric Hatch: Maybe.

And there seemed to be nothing in the couples' relationship to suggest another reason.

Tracy Smith: What did you learn about the Sills' marriage?

Det. Eric Hatch: According to Scott, everything was fine. They had a, you know, a good relationship.

Both children attested that their parents loved each other — and said they rarely argued and were never violent. Detectives started piecing together a timeline of the weekend.

Det. Dave Holloway: Saturday night … she … was on the couch. … Eric came down to see her, check on her, make sure she was OK.

It was around midnight when Eric Sills and his mom went back upstairs, after Eric said she put the dogs away in their crate. Mary-Katherine had gone to bed in her parents' bedroom. Susann Sills was going to spend the night in Mary-Katherine's room, which was the quietest.

Det. Dave Holloway: It was … Mary-Katherine's idea for Susann to spend the night in that room. It was clean … according to Mary-Katherine … and done up … like a little hotel suite … for Susann to convalesce in there.

Mary-Katherine had left a note on her door with what would be her last words to her Mom. "I know you are tired," she wrote, "but you need to know that I love you ..." 

Dr. Eric Scott Sill and Susann Sills
Dr. Eric Scott Sill and Susann Sills Sandi Roberts

Around 4 a.m., Eric Sills said he woke to the sound of his parents arguing in the next room.

Det. Dave Holloway (pointing up at windows outside Sills home): The two windows, that's … Eric's room.

Tracy Smith: So Eric is right next (to) Mary-Katherine's room … where his mom was.

Det. Dave Holloway: Yeah.

Tracy Smith: And what did he tell you he heard?

Det. Dave Holloway: Well, he heard loud voices arguing, but … he didn't describe hearing any physical confrontation.

Eric Sills told detectives that after about five minutes he decided to go to sleep in the main bedroom with his sister. According to Mary-Katherine's statement, she thought he'd come in around 3:40 a.m. and told her their parents were arguing about a work email.

DETECTIVE: How do you know she — she got an email?

MARY-KATHERINE SILLS: Because Eric said they were talking about that.

DETECTIVE: Oh, OK. So Eric told you that she got an email and that she was, it was about something …

MARY-KATHERINE SILLS: Something about work.

Scott Sills told detectives he had argued with his wife because he found her working late on her laptop, which made her migraines worse.

Tracy Smith: When you heard that they had an argument shortly before she was found at the bottom of the stairs dead, what was going through your mind?

Det. Dave Holloway: Well, again that's … one more piece of data that we're gonna collect. … It doesn't mean one way or the other that it was a murder. But that's definitely an avenue that we would have to pursue.

Neither Eric nor Mary-Katherine heard their dad return to the bedroom.

MARY-KATHERINE SILLS:  I woke up and my dad was just like on the covers just laying there like there wasn't enough room to get in I guess. So, he was just laying there.

DETECTIVE: On top of it?


It was around 6:30 a.m. the next morning when Scott Sills and the twins woke up. He asked them if they wanted to go to the pool and get some doughnuts. Mary-Katherine said when she left the bedroom and looked over the banister, she saw her mom's body at the bottom of the stairs — that long red and white scarf around her neck.

Det. Dave Holloway: That was … Mary-Katherine's scarf … It was found in the same room as … Susann's body.

Tracy Smith: But the scarf wasn't on her body?

Det. Dave Holloway: When we arrived, it was not. … Mary-Katherine told us that she had to remove the scarf. And she did that … not to impede mom's breathing.

Sills scarf
Mary-Katherine Sills said when she saw her mom's body at the bottom of the stairs — a red and white scarf was around her neck. She told police she removed it. Orange County Superior Court

Adding to the mystery were the injuries to Susann Sills' neck the deputy coroner had noticed during a preliminary examination of the body earlier that morning.

Det. Eric Hatch: Especially with the ligature mark across her neck … it just didn't make sense.

Tracy Smith: Is it possible that she could have fallen down the stairs and then somehow the scarf strangled her?

Det. Dave Holloway: Could have caught on a banister … sure I suppose so, but we didn't have any evidence of that.

As detectives continued their investigation, the questions mounted.

Tracy Smith: Did anybody in the house hear a fall down the stairs?

Det. Dave Holloway: No. Nobody described hearing a fall down the stairs. Or, if Susann had been carrying that … stainless steel pot, no one heard that bounce down the stairs or land on the tile floor.

Det. Dave Holloway: There was no evidence on the stairs of someone going down, uh, like broken baluster or anything like that.

And something else the detectives thought was strange.

Det. Eric Hatch:  It was a warm day even though it was November. But when we spoke with Scott, and during the whole time we were … in the house doing our investigation, he was wearing a beanie over his head. … And he said that he slept with it 'cause it was cold.

Tracy Smith: Did you ask him to remove the beanie?

Det. Eric Hatch: Yes.

As it turned out, Susann wasn't the only one with injuries that morning.


Det. Dave Holloway: We discovered that Scott had some injuries … He had … a … cut up here on his forehead. … and on his arm, he had … a bruise.

Scott Sills said there was a simple explanation for the injuries. He had hurt himself while working on his car in the garage with his son, Eric. There was just one problem.

Det. Dave Holloway: Eric told us dad didn't hurt himself.

Tracy Smith: Did he say to you, I left the garage so maybe he hurt himself while I was gone?

Det. Dave Holloway: No. He told us they came in the house together.

And investigators said they found something Scott Sills couldn't explain on that day.

Tracy Smith: You found blood?

Det. Eric Hatch: Yes.

Sills blood evidence
Blood can be seen on curtains in Mary-Katherine's bedroom where her mom had been sleeping. Blood was also found on the wall and nightstand. Orange County Superior Court

Blood in Mary-Katherine's room — where Susann Sills had been staying — on the curtains, the wall, and the nightstand.

Tracy Smith: So, that morning when you asked Scott about the blood, what did he say?

Det. Eric Hatch: He didn't know where it came from. … He was unaware of it.

Mary-Katherine told investigators the room was "perfect" when she left it. She also said she'd turned down the bed, but now it was made.

Det. Eric Hatch: It didn't really make sense. … Why would Susann … take the time to make the bed in the middle of the night?

Tracy Smith: So if you found blood in Mary-Katherine's bedroom, you know that there are ligature marks on Susann … why not take him down to the station at this point and question him?

Det. Dave Holloway: Once you arrest somebody … that starts processes that … you can't stop. … Besides the blood in the bedroom … we didn't really have … enough evidence of a fight occurring. … So, at the end of the day, there wasn't enough probable cause legally to arrest him.

Susann Sills' autopsy four days later didn't provide any definitive answers.

The forensic pathologist noted that Susann Sills had injuries all over her body that could have resulted from a fall, including a fractured C3 vertebra near the base of her neck, which can be fatal. Then there was that ligature mark across her neck and hemorrhaging of the blood vessels in her eyes, which pointed to strangulation. It would take months to make an official ruling.

Det. Dave Holloway: It's … not something they wanna rush into. It's not something they wanna make a rash judgment on. … The doctor … wanted to examine the whole case more clearly.

In the meantime, detectives requested DNA testing on evidence collected from the Sills home, and forensic analysis on Susann Sills' phone and laptop. They also dug deeper into who the Sills were.

Det. Dave Holloway: None of their immediate neighbors knew anything about the family. …

Eventually… we … contacted whoever we could out of their contact list to try and find out more.

Sandi Roberts: In high school I thought this must be what genius means … his humor, his quick wit.

Sandi Roberts and Jamie Aikens have known Scott Sills since their high school days in Harriman, Tennessee.

Sandi Roberts: He was something we had never seen before. In a small town in Tennessee at that age … He was very special.

Jamie Aikens: He was hilarious … How many people come to class in a three-piece suit … and it's not dress-up day.

Sandi Roberts: He's flamboyant. He's bigger than life. … He was very, very kind.

Jamie Aikens: I grew up, uh, pretty poor, I didn't have a car in high school or anything like that and a lot of times no lunch money. … And he always pulled out his wallet and paid for it. It just wasn't a question.

His future seemed limitless. He was accepted to both law school and medical school.

Sandi Roberts: We were kind of all … on the edge of our seat, wondering what he was going to decide to do.

Dr. Eric Scott Sills
Dr. Eric Scott Sills was a beloved infertilty doctor. Scott Sills/Facebook

And it was no surprise when the hometown boy became a renowned IVF specialist – a profession that would lead him to Susann.

Chris Solimine: Susann was going through fertility treatment, trying to get pregnant with her first husband.

Chris Solimine met Susann Arsuaga in business school, where she earned an MBA. She had confided in him about her struggles to get pregnant.

Chris Solimine: Having kids was everything to Susann. … She'd cry about it. I mean, it was so important to her. … And … Eric Scott Sills was her fertility doctor.

But soon, Solimine says, they were a couple.

Chris Solimine: She started talking about Dr. Sills after she had told me she was getting divorced … and that she was now dating him. … I just remember her saying … he's a … brilliant doctor.

Scott Sills, who was also coming out of a previous marriage, seemed to have met his match.

Chris Solimine: Susanne was … smart, witty, sarcastic, but not in a mean way, you know, just enough to – to dig at you. … incredibly driven, a loyal friend.

Sandi Roberts: She … was so … classy, so beautiful … very engaging.

Jamie Aikens: Seemed like to me he found one that — it was a good fit.

Susann Arsuaga fit right in at Scott's 20th high school reunion.

Sandi Roberts: She danced the whole time. … They were lovely together. …  He just seemed really … happy.

Sills family
Scott and Susann Sills with twins Eric and Mary-Katherine and dogs Annabelle and Buddy. Susann Sills/

The couple married and welcomed twins through IVF, adding to Dr. Sills' two older kids. And eventually, Susann Sills' business acumen would lead them to start their own IVF practice in April 2015.

Chris Solimine: She started the business … She built it. … Susann pretty much ran everything with the exception of actually doing the procedures. 

The practice soon took off. And Dr. Sills was often featured on the TV program "The Doctors," which was distributed by CBS.

Dr. Julio Novoa: He was in many eyes, a saint. … He was loved by his patients.

Dr. Julio Novoa is an OB/GYN who co-authored a book with Dr. Sills.

Dr. Julio Novoa: Dr. Sills … was a great doctor … And Susann was a — a great advocate for women as well. … They were a team not just married, but a team and working well together.

But about a month before her death, Rick Leeds, another of Susann Sills' friends, says she left him a troubling message.

Rick Leeds: She sounded like she was whispering … It was so different from the happy, jovial, excited voicemails I got before. This one was definitely … things weren't good.

When they spoke, Leeds says it sounded like there was tension over a photo.

Rick Leeds: She said it was a topless photo of her that had appeared on a … blog. … this was some discussion she didn't wanna have.


When news of Susann Sills' death reached her friends, they were stunned.

Rick Leeds: It was devastating.

Chris Solimine: I couldn't believe it. … It didn't seem plausible to me that she just fell down the stairs with a migraine headache.

It didn't sound like the vibrant Susann they knew. Scott Sills' friends say they were equally perplexed.

Sandi Roberts: Scott would not discuss anything with us.

Jamie Aikens: He quickly changed the subject. … We never spoke again. … you don't know how tragedies affect people.

Tracy Smith:  What were your impressions of Scott Sills throughout the investigation?

Det. Dave Holloway: I would describe him as emotionless. … He never … acted as though Susann was even his wife … He talked about what a good manager she was and how she kept  … their business flowing. … But he never once mentioned that she was a good mother or that he loved her …

Tracy Smith: All very businesslike?

Det. Dave Holloway: Yeah.

In fact, the day after Susann Sills' death, the doctor had gone to work.

Joanie Rickers: I was shocked. … Who goes to the office the next morning when your wife died.

Joanie Rickers' daughter was a nurse at the Sills' IVF clinic and had called her in a panic.

Joanie Rickers: She said her patients are in cycle and they have to be treated.

Rickers volunteered to help manage the office — something Susann Sills did — and ended up working there for two years.

Tracy Smith: Did Dr. Sills talk about his wife?

Joanie Rickers: Oh, never.

Tracy Smith: Didn't ever say how she died?

Joanie Rickers: Oh, we — it was never discussed.

Pretty soon, she says the doctor started changing his appearance.

Joanie Rickers: He started to dress like a movie star. … I mean, he was very simple before.

And she says the once-balding doctor now had a full head of hair.

Sandi Roberts:  We definitely noticed, um, new hair.

Scott Sills
Scott Sills' changing behavior and new appearance raised red flags. Scott Sills/Facebook

They also noticed Dr. Sills' flashier online persona.

Sandi Roberts: I said to one of my friends, now is Sills a doctor or a model? … I personally don't know any doctors on social media…  that are takin' selfies in the gym … in their — blazers and their sunglasses and in their Porsches … I mean, it was a little much.

Rick Leeds: All of a sudden, there started to be another woman in photos, and he was out on dates and they were going around town.

The behavior raised eyebrows, but it was hardly evidence. Then, in November 2017, a year after Susann Sills' death, there was finally news from the coroner's office: Susann's cause of death was cited as ligature strangulation and the manner a homicide.

Dr. Sills was now the prime suspect. DNA results on the blood in Mary-Katherine's room showed a mixture of his and Susann's DNA.

Det. Dave Holloway: They were both there.

Tracy Smith: There was a fight.

Det. Dave Holloway: There's a fight. And he killed his wife.

On Aug. 8, 2018, nearly two years after Susann Sills' death, Detectives Holloway and Hatch made a surprise house call at the doctor's home.

Tracy Smith: Did you ask Dr. Sills at this point, just flat out, did you kill your wife?

Det. Eric Hatch: Yes. … He … started stressing — started sweating. … He became more defensive.

They say the doctor denied killing his wife. And he now offered an explanation for his blood in Mary-Katherine's room: he said he had injured himself replacing a window screen.

Tracy Smith: Wouldn't Mary-Katherine have seen the blood that he left from replacing the screen?

Det. Eric Hatch: For sure.

Tracy Smith: And she didn't mention it?

Det. Eric Hatch: Nope.

Despite the death being ruled a homicide, detectives said they still had more investigating to do, like finding a motive. A search of Susann Sills' phone provided some clues. Text messages hinted at problems in the marriage.

Det. Dave Holloway: There was one in particular where she … had some pretty strong words towards Scott.

In texts sent in late August, less than three months before her death, Susann Sills wrote, "I am trapped"... "You are killing me"... "I just want out" and "We just aren't right for each other.

And about a month before her death, Susann had confided in Rick Leeds.

Rick Leeds: She and Scott were in a really rocky place and she was thinking about leaving him. 

Susann Sills Susann Sills/

He said Susann Sills was also upset about a photo she had posted online.

Rick Leeds: Whatever was going on between her and Scott … and this picture … was just … a pivotal point for her.

Susann Sills  had posted a topless photo after making a bet in a political chatroom called

Det. Dave Holloway: Susann apparently was one of the few women who was involved in this forum. … She … kind of threw out … that … if Donald Trump won the presidential nomination, that she would post a picture of her bare breasts.

And on the day of her death, detectives had found a printout in Dr. Sills' home office of an exchange between Susann and another member from Aug. 30, 2016, discussing the photo. The man, who went by "tenpoundbass" wrote: "All I've got to say is you must have a super cool husband."

Susann Sills aka "turtledove" replied, "He's exhausted, actually. It isn't easy being married to a woman who is partially naked and posing alluringly, all the time ..."

Dr. Sills denied that he had printed that chat. But when investigators later searched his phone, they found a photo of the same exchange.

Tracy Smith: Does this sound like this could lead to motive?

Det. Dave Holloway: Yes, … if it's … something that's building up in him, some kind of anger … or jealousy about … what his wife's doing online without him …

Tracy Smith: Enough to kill her?

Det. Dave Holloway: Mm-hmm.

Detectives also learned that Dr. Sills had tried to collect on a $250,000 life insurance policy on Susann, but he claimed the insurance company had called him.

Det. Eric Hatch: He wasn't able to collect because … 'cause that death certificate was ruled as a homicide.

Tracy Smith: Do you think Scott Sills thought he'd gotten away with it?

Det. Eric Hatch: I think so.

Det. Dave Holloway: Every day that went by, he felt a little bit more at ease, I think.

On April 25, 2019, nearly two-and-a-half years after Susann' Sills' death, Dr. Sills was arrested for her alleged murder on his way to surgery. He quickly posted a million dollar bond. But investigators were about to get an unexpected tip from a woman who said she had met Dr. Sills while Susann was still alive.

Det. Eric Hatch: They met through Facebook … He was infatuated with her.

She shared an email Scott Sills had sent her about two weeks after Susann Sills' death.

Tracy Smith (reading email): "Pour ma chère Marie."

Det. Eric Hatch: Yes.

Tracy Smith: So it's … in French: "This is probably the most important manuscript I have ever written....I am asking you to seriously rethink our suspended, but once intense relationship."

Tracy Smith: When you first read that email … what was your reaction?

Det. Eric Hatch: I thought … I was shocked … This is a motive.

Tracy Smith: So could Dr. Sills have killed his wife to get her out of the way?

Jack Earley: Oh, I just don't see that at all.

Dr. Sills' defense attorney Jack Earley denies that there was a romantic relationship. And he says that email was merely a devastated father's desperate attempt to find a new mother for his children.

Tracy Smith: Did you feel in your gut that you could win this case?

Jack Earley: Oh, yes.


In November 2023, just over seven years after Susann Sills' death, Scott Sills – now stripped of his medical license — went on trial for her murder. The Orange County District Attorney's Office declined our request for an interview, but cameras were allowed in court for portions of the trial where Senior Deputy D.A. Jennifer Walker laid out her case to the jury.

JENNIFER WALKER (in court): November 13th of 2016 … this man killed his wife and hid it.

Walker argued that Scott Sills beat, and then strangled, Susann Sills to death before staging the scene to make it look like she had fallen down the stairs.

JENNIFER WALKER (in court): This is a murder, not an accident.

The prosecution's case relied heavily on Susann Sills' autopsy. But Scott Sills' defense attorney, Jack Earley, came to court armed with a unique theory. He suggested that Susann fell — either going up or down — the stairs and that one or both of the family dogs then tugged on the scarf that was wrapped around her neck.

Tracy Smith: Do you honestly think that the dogs pulled hard enough to strangle her to death?

Jack Earley: No, no — I didn't. That was not the main theory that the dogs actually strangled her to death.

Instead, Earley focused on another injury identified in Susann Sills' autopsy: that fractured C3 vertebra. He says that injury is consistent with a fall, and that it would have left Susann incapacitated.

Jack Earley: Let's assume that someone trips and falls and fractures their C3 … their breathing is compromised. If they're then choked, it doesn't take much to kill 'em.

Susann Sills playing with dogs
Home video of Susann Sills playing tug-of-war with family dogs Buddy, left, and Annabelle. Orange County Superior Court

The defense had the scarf tested for dog DNA and it came back positive. And there was testimony that the dogs were known to play tug-of-war. as seen in this video. And when Susann and Scott Sills' now-19-year-old daughter Mary-Katherine took the stand for the prosecution, her testimony supported the defense's theory. Investigator Dave Holloway was at the trial.

Det. Dave Holloway: Mary-Katherine testified that she … saw the dogs pulling at the scarf around her neck. And none of that came up during—the—the day we interviewed her the first time.

Tracy Smith: How did that strike you?

Det Dave Holloway: Well, (sighs), um, I know that she was still close with her father …

Tracy Smith: Do you think she's trying to protect her dad?

Det. Dave Holloway: I would say so.

Earley denies that. He says the reason Mary-Katherine didn't tell investigators is simple.

Jack Earley: It wasn't asked. … Why would she think the dogs were important? She doesn't even know that … there's any question of being choked.

He says Scott Sills did tell first-responders. And he argued that Susann Sills' toxicology tests point to an accidental fall. She had a muscle relaxant and pain medication in her system. And Earley told the jury that Susann suffered from a fainting disorder and that vertigo would accompany her migraines. But the prosecution said the defense's theory just doesn't make sense.

JENNIFER WALKER (in court): Strangulation is a silent killer. You know what's not a silent killer? Falling down multiple stairs … You have to believe she bounced her head, neck, back, shoulders, inside of her arms, legs and feet, multiple ways against approximately six stairs. Like being in a soundproof pinball machine. … Then was strangled by her dogs. Not reasonable.

And why would Susann Sills have a scarf around her neck that early in the morning to begin with? Prosecutors suggested that Scott Sills used it to strangle her and then left it around her neck to cover the marks. But Earley told the jury it wasn't unusual for Susann to wear a scarf, especially when she wasn't feeling well.

Jack Earley: Because if she got sick, that was something that she would wear — a scarf to wipe … your mouth with it.

But the prosecution also pointed out that Susann and Scott Sills' son Eric told investigators he saw his         mother put the dogs away in their crate in the hours before she died.

Tracy Smith: Eric said that his mom put the dogs in the crate.

Jack Earley: Yes. … Sometimes, dogs, when they're crate-trained, when they go to bed, will go lay in the crate, even with the door open. 

Sills staircase
A lone shoe on the staircase of the Sills family's San Clemente, California, home. Orange County Superior Court

There was also no blood on the stairs or damage to them.

Tracy Smith: There are all these injuries that you say come from the fall down the stairs, all over her body, but she leaves no marks on the stairs.

Jack Earley: But there's no marks anywhere in the house …

But there was that blood in Mary-Katherine's bedroom, and the prosecution argued it was evidence that a fight occurred. A forensic scientist testified that the stains on the nightstand and drapes were consistent with Scott Sills' DNA. Earley did acknowledge that his client's blood was in the room, but he told the jury about Scott's claim that he hurt himself there on an earlier date.

Tracy Smith: From Scott replacing a screen?

Jack Earley: Yeah. From getting cut on a nail that was in the back of … the nightstand that was there.

That forensic scientist though testified that one of the stains on the wall was a mixture of DNA—and Scott and Susann Sills were likely contributors. Earley says that doesn't mean it was Susann's blood and that it could have been her touch DNA that was picked up.

Jack Earley: Susann had touched that area before at some point in time. And she lived there.

But the prosecution pointed out that there were also clumps of Susann Sills' hair found in Mary-Katherine's room, and there were blood stains on Susann's clothing that were found to be consistent with Scott Sills' DNA, too. Earley had a rebuttal to it all, starting with the hair.

Jack Earley: She has hair extensions. And you know what hair extensions cause? Loss of hair. …

And the blood on the clothes?

Jack Earley: You don't know how old it is.

The jury was also shown pictures of those injuries that were observed on Scott Sills. Remember how he told investigators that he hurt himself while working on his car with his son? And how, according to investigators, Eric Sills said that his father didn't get injured? Well, when Eric Sills took the stand, his testimony allowed for the possibility.

Jack Earley: What he testified is, well, I didn't stay there the whole time he fixed the car. …

Tracy Smith: Does that seem like a discrepancy to you?

Jack Earley: Well … it's not a discrepancy. … nobody's asking him that full story at — at the age 12.

Tracy Smith: So he didn't necessarily say at age 12, dad didn't get the injury from the car?

Jack Earley: No … he basically said I wasn't there when he got the injury. …

While Eric Sills did testify that a loud discussion between his parents had woken him up shortly before his mother's death, the defense told the jury that there was nothing to it. And those texts between Scott and Susann Sills in the months before Susann's death?

Jack Earley: If you have 40,000 texts and there's five of them with hard language in it, that's a perfect marriage.

The jury didn't hear about the life insurance policy, that e-mail Scott Sills sent to another woman or his social media photos in the wake of his wife's death, but they were told about the posts. And the prosecution argued that topless photo that Susann Sills posted on the site enraged Scott Sills.

Jack Earley: It wasn't a big deal.

Tracy Smith: It's not striking to you that he had this photo in two places on his phone and then on the printer?

Jack Earley: No, first of all, I don't know really who printed this stuff up.

Earley maintains there is no motive for murder.

Jack Earley: There was never any physical violence. … Their working and marriage relationship … everybody looked at it as loving.

Scott Sills chose not to take the stand. The trial spanned three weeks, and then the case went to the jury.

Erin Ellis: My heart was just pounding.


Jurors Erin Ellis, Jack Van Camp, and Susan Blaho say that when deliberations began, they felt the pressure.

Jack Van Camp: It's just so intimidating that you got someone's life on the line …

Tracy Smith: It weighs on you.

Erin Ellis: Oh, yeah. And the ripple effect …

Jack Van Camp: The kids, and uh —

Erin Ellis: Yeah.

Tracy Smith: Did you think about that? That these kids didn't only lose their mom? That if you convict him, now they're losing their dad.

Erin Ellis: Of course.

Jack Van Camp: Yeah.

They say they also felt a clear motive was lacking.

Erin Ellis: I mean, it's hard to imagine … why something like this would happen.

Jack Van Camp: Somebody would do that.

Erin Ellis: Yeah.

After about three hours, they came to a decision. The clerk read the verdict:

COURT CLERK: We the jury in the above-entitled action find the defendant, Eric Scott Sills, not guilty of the crime of first-degree murder …We the jury in the above-entitled action find the defendant, Eric Scott Sills, guilty of the crime of second-degree murder. 

Scott Sills trial
Eric Scott Sills was found guilty of second-degree murder. Getty Images

Guilty of second-degree murder. Scott Sills, who gave the gift of life to so many through his IVF practice—now convicted of taking the life of his wife, the mother of his kids.

Erin Ellis: I just felt sad. I mean, I was tearing up on the way out … This whole family had been through so much, you know— now this is the next phase of it.

Susan Blaho: It was finality.

Jack Van Camp: But he did that.

The jurors we spoke to say that no one on the jury bought the defense's theory about the dogs.

Jack Van Camp: The dogs would have to choke her on the stairs. And my dog was as big as hers and my dog cannot get a grip on wooden stairs with their nails to do anything. They just slide.

Erin Ellis: The scarf had no puncture wounds either. … I would've expected holes.

Jack Van Camp: And the fall down the stairs wouldn't create that scenario on her body.

Instead, what they spent the most time grappling with was whether Scott Sills was guilty of first-degree or second-degree murder. First-degree murder requires premeditation and deliberation.

Jack Van Camp: I just didn't think he planned it.

Erin Ellis: I don't.

Jack Van Camp: If he had planned it or done any kind of forethought, it wouldn't be a hot mess crime scene that it was.

Susan Blaho: It was kind of like a snap.

But investigator Dave Holloway says while Scott Sills may not have planned his crime, he certainly had the time to think about what he was doing.

Det. Dave Holloway: He had plenty of time from when he applied pressure to Susann's neck, till she died to stop what he was doing. … And he still did it. … I was a little disappointed that it was a second degree.

On March 15, 2024, about three months after the verdict, court reconvened for sentencing. Susann Sills' mother, Theresa Neubauer, addressed the court, and kept the focus on her daughter.

Theresa Neubauer: She was a dynamic person. She had hopes and dreams …

Hopes and dreams, Neubauer said, that one day Susann would see her daughter, Mary-Katherine, walk down the stairs of the family's San Clemente home on her wedding day.

Theresa Neubauer: It was a very painful, uh, thing for me to learn of the role the staircase eventually played in real life. 

Mary-Katherine Sills in court
Mary-Katherine Sills addresses the court at her father's sentencing CBS News

Mary-Katherine also addressed the court and spoke of all the loss she had endured at such a young age. She and her brother were taken in by a family friend after their father's arrest and that family friend died suddenly of a health condition around the end of the trial. She asked the judge to show her father mercy.

MARY-KATHERINE SILLS (in court): I want my father to walk me down the aisle at my wedding someday. When I have a family and children, I want my father to be there to hold my baby. I have been left orphaned and I feel so lost without my parents.

Judge Patrick Donahue sentenced Scott Sills to the mandatory sentence under California law: 15 years to life in prison. His fate was decided, but for so many, questions remain. Exactly what led up to Susann Sills' death?

Tracy Smith: Do you think we'll ever know exactly how it happened?

Det. Dave Holloway: I don't think so.

Det. Eric Hatch: No.

Scott Sills declined "48 Hours"' requests for an interview. But in the end, no explanation will suffice — or ease the profound sense of loss that lingers. Patients now without their doctor —

Dr. Julio Novoa: Thousands of women felt him to be a saint. … From the saint all the way down to the devil, that's how it ended up being.

— and children without their father or their mother.

Susann Sills
Susann Sills

Chris Solimine: Her kids were so important to her and everything she did revolved around her children. … She was an incredible human being. … You know, I—I miss her (emotional).

Scott Sills will be eligible for parole in 2033, though it could be sooner with good behavior.

He is appealing his conviction.

"48 Hours" Post Mortem Podcast

Correspondent Tracy Smith and producer Gayane Keshishyan Mendez discuss the 911 call made by Dr. Sills, the police interview with a woman investigators believed he was courting, and the defense's unusual theory that the family dogs were involved in Susann Sills' death.

Listen to this episode on ART19

Produced by Gayane Keshishyan Mendez and Stephanie Slifer. Alicia Tejada is the coordinating producer. Chelsea Narvaez is the associate producer. Michelle Fanucci, Cindy Cesare and Michelle Sigona are the development producers. Danielle Austen is the development associate producer. Gary Winter, Atticus Brady, Michelle Harris, Jason Schmidt and Michael Baluzy are the editors. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.