Local News

State rests in trial of accused nursing home shooter

Posted August 18, 2011

— Prosecutors in the trial of a man accused of killing eight people in a shooting rampage at a Moore County nursing home two years ago rested their case Thursday.

Stewart is accused of killing seven patients and a nurse in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Prosecutors have argued that Stewart went to Pinelake, where his then-wife, Wanda Neal, worked, to track her down and that he was so heavily armed that nothing was going to stop him.

Megerian said at the start of the trial that Stewart overdosed on the sleep aid Ambien the night before the shootings, which put him in a hypnotic state that left him powerless over his actions. Stewart doesn't recall what happened the day of the shooting and can't be held legally responsible, Megerian has maintained.

On Thursday, a clinical psychologist detailed tests on Stewart done in the spring and summer.

Dr. LaVonne Fox from Central Region Psychiatric Hospital testified that a personality and emotional test, known as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or MMPI, was given to Stewart this spring.

Fox said results showed inconsistencies in his answers and that he could be exaggerating his mental illness, so she deemed the test invalid. Fox did not give the test, only analyzed the results.

Psychologist James Hilke was hired by the defense to administer the test. He is expected to testify for the defense.

In a heated cross-examination, defense lawyer Jonathan Megerian challenged Fox’s decision to dismiss the results, saying Stewart responded “true” to statements such as "I'm sure I'm being talked about," and "I have strange and peculiar thoughts."

Stewart also responded “true” to the statement, "I have had periods where I carried out activities that I later did not know I had been doing,” Megerian said.

Megerian said given Stewart's situation, his responses were appropriate and that he was not faking anything.

Prosecutors asked Fox why she did not administer the test again herself. She said it was ill-advised to have him retake the test so soon.

Fox said she met with Stewart three times in June to administer other tests, including one to check his memory. She said the tests to check Stewart's memory recall had good results.

Pinelake Health & Rehab State rests in nursing home shooter trial

Also on Thursday, Neal's son, Derek Luck, testified that his mother lived in constant paranoia after leaving Stewart.

"She was very scared. She didn't want to leave the house. She would check her tires to make sure they weren't cut. She would look out the window to see if his truck was going down the road," Luck said.

Luck said Stewart would call late at night asking for Neal. 

"There were plenty of phone calls. We ended up taking the phone off the hook after a week. That's when he started calling everybody else," Luck said. 

Last week, jurors heard angry phone messages Stewart left for Neal's pastor. 

Moore County Superior Court Judge James Webb ruled not to allow testimony from a Moore County deputy about a statement Neal gave about a confrontation she had with Stewart a few years before the shooting. In the statement Neal gave days after the Pinelake shootings, she said Stewart aimed a gun at her and told her she was the reason for his problems.

The defense argued that the testimony contradicted testimony from Neal on Tuesday, where she described the incident, saying Neal pulled out a gun but did not point it at her.

Webb also ruled against allowing testimony from Neal's friend Linda Buckingham about a conversation she had with Neal. Buckingham said Neal called her in the weeks before the shooting saying Stewart pulled a gun on her and that she was leaving him.

Neal did not mention the conversation during her testimony this week.

The trial will resume on Monday with the defense's case. 

11 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • castnblast82 Aug 18, 2011

    They're going to spend as much money on this killer as possible. He's guilty, his execution should have already taken place long ago.

  • Scare Crow Aug 18, 2011

    I've called my daughter after taking Ambien and had no idea of the call. And if you mix it with other sleep aids then you can do things like drive a car. Its almost like you are in a zombie state. Sleep walking. Now I suppose we can add sleep-killing to the list. But Corgimom06 is right, its' designed to get you to sleep and then quickly leaves the system. The CR (controled release) just maintains that sleep but is not nearly as strong after the 4 hour period.

  • abylelab -BT- Aug 18, 2011

    >>I hope someone in the prosecution brings up the fact that Ambien has a very short half-life, even the CR version. The mean half life is 2.8 hours with the range being 1.62-4.05 so if he took the Ambien the night before it was out of his system in 4 hours max. I don't buy this guys story for a second. And yes, Ambien has effect such as sleep-driving, but driving is a far cry from loading yourself up with gun/bullets and shooting people. He is crazy if he thinks anyone is going to buy this story!
    corgimom06

    that's not how half-life works. if he took 60mg, the MAX that would be in his system after 4 hours is 30mg, the MIN would be approximately 8mg, based on your ranges.

  • jpfaithinhim Aug 18, 2011

    Everyone involved is not just talking with Stewart but are also talking with the demons he has.

  • aceofspades0369 Aug 18, 2011

    I once abused Ambien. It got to the point where a 30 day supply would last one week. I developed a high tolerance for Ambien, so I went to another doctor for Xanax and started abusing that as well. It's true that you do black out if abused, and I have even driven in the middle of the night with 60mg in my system. Even at my lowest point of depression and anger, I never ONCE planned a shootout to blow away people. If you are under the influence of Ambien, you do things spontaneous, NOT CONSPIRING to commit murder. If he got into a car accident and killed innocent people while under the influence of Ambien I would be more sympathetic. He should be ashamed of himself for using Ambien as an excuse for his murder spree. You are GUILTY for 8 counts of 1st degree murder.

  • mhdeland Aug 18, 2011

    Sometimes I wonder how some defense attornys sleep at night knowing they are trying to release a killer out on the streets. Granted some on trial our innocent, but not this guy.

  • whocares Aug 18, 2011

    If he overdosed on Ambien, wouldn't he have had to go to the hospital? Ambien has been blamed on a lot of things, but killing people is NOT one of them. He knew exactly what he was doing. If he had the presence of mind to take extra ammo, then he was aware of what he was doing.

  • corgimom06 Aug 18, 2011

    I hope someone in the prosecution brings up the fact that Ambien has a very short half-life, even the CR version. The mean half life is 2.8 hours with the range being 1.62-4.05 so if he took the Ambien the night before it was out of his system in 4 hours max. I don't buy this guys story for a second. And yes, Ambien has effect such as sleep-driving, but driving is a far cry from loading yourself up with gun/bullets and shooting people. He is crazy if he thinks anyone is going to buy this story!

  • JAT Aug 18, 2011

    I have strange and peculiar thoughts, too, but I'm not going to go out and kill a bunch of people.

  • snshine62d Aug 18, 2011

    He knew what he was doing, he was mad and took it out on innocent people.

More...