Oregon Man With REM Disorder Beats Up Wife in Sleep

Judge treats loving couple as domestic abuse case and separates them.

ByABC News via logo
April 21, 2010, 4:48 PM

April 22, 2010— -- Adam Kearns is not a violent man -- except in his sleep.

Two months ago, the Keizer, Ore., man punched his wife in the face three times while they were in bed, and when he was done, he lay back down to sleep.

"The next thing that I knew, Adam was back asleep snoring," said his wife Randi Kearns.

His bleeding wife called 911 and paramedics took her to the hospital and police charged her husband with assault. But Kearns has no memory of the incident.

A judge has since forced the couple live apart under a "no contact" order, leaving the 29-year-old woman alone to raise their three children, who are 8, 5 and 2.

Randi Kearns said her husband, who works for the Oregon Department of Human Services, has always been a loving and caring husband and father.

"I don't even get to see him, it's so hard," she told ABC News Portland, Ore., affiliate KATU-TV.

"He's not a violent man," she said. "He's never hurt me or even made me feel afraid."

Now, the couple, who have been married for 10 years, said the separation is destroying the family.

"It's torn us apart," Adam Kearns told ABCNews.com. "I can't go home; I can't be a husband and a father. My goal is to get home, that's all that matters."

After the Feb. 20 incident, Kearns was diagnosed with REM Behavior Disorder, a condition in which people physically act out their dreams.

The night Kearns struck his wife, their 5-year-old ran into his parents' bedroom about 4 a.m., screaming with night terrors. His mother woke up, and the next thing she knew her husband began to beat her with his fist, according to her account in her frantic 911 call.

"He started yelling at me - I couldn't reason with him," Randi Kearns cried on the 911 tape. "It was like he was asleep. It was the weirdest thing - he's never hurt me in his life."

Doctors say Kearns may have had a "primal reaction" to his son's scream and lashed out, according to Kearns.

The Keizer Police Department told KATU-TV that they were forced to press charges when paramedics arrived and reported the nocturnal assault. Police said they are required by law to arrest people who commit an assault in their own home.

Kearns was jailed for three days and then released on the condition that he stay away from his wife, but he has been able to visit his children.

"She is my soul mate," he said. "She is the one person that God has blessed me with and the last person I would ever lay my hands on."

But the Marion County District Attorney's office is still charging Kearns with felony spousal abuse and the case is scheduled to be heard May 5.

"Our goal is to hold people accountable," said Oregon Assistant District Attorney Doug Hanson.

Kearns said he was evaluated by the Willamette Sleep Center, in Salem, Ore., after the incident.

Sleep experts say that periods of stress can trigger incidents of sleepwalking or violence.

Kearns was stressed, he said, after he accumulated $12,000 in medical debts while working a part-time job with no health insurance.

"I hadn't been sleeping very well for six weeks," Kearns said. "I was pretty exhausted."

Beyond the financial worries, the couple also lost each of their grandfathers this year, their 5-year-old just had surgery for sleep apnea and Randi Kearns' father is recovering from brain cancer surgery.

Her mother and stepfather had been living at the house with Randi Kearns, but have since moved to live with Adam Kearns.

As a boy, Kearns said he had night terrors and in the days leading up to the incident, he said his wife told him he had been talking in his sleep and moving around the bed.

REM behavior disorder is usually seen in much older adults. The most heinous crimes committed during sleep tend to occur in non-REM parasomnias.