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Toxicologist: Sleep drug can produce hypnotic state

Posted August 24, 2011

— The sleep-aid Ambien is powerful enough to leave people unaware of things they have done, a Boone toxicologist testified Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of opening fire inside a Carthage nursing home two years ago.

Robert Stewart is charged with gunning down seven patients and a nurse in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian has maintained that Stewart doesn't recall what happened the day of the shootings and can't be held legally responsible. He told jurors that Stewart was taking several medications and overdosed on Ambien the night before the shootings – a blood test taken hours later showed he had 12 times the normal dose in his system – putting him in a hypnotic state that left him powerless over his actions.

Andrew Mason, a former state toxicologist whom the defense hired to test Stewart's blood, called Ambien a "very potent sedative or hypnotic drug" that has many side-effects, including amnesia, anxiety, disorientation and emotional disability.

Some Ambien users have reported driving, preparing meals or committing acts of violence and having no recollection of the events, Mason said.

"These incidents apparently occur either in a state of incomplete sleep or incomplete arousal from sleep," he said. “They are shown evidence of (actions) after the fact, and that they have no knowledge of experiencing them.”

Stewart also was taking Lexapro and Xanax, two anti-depressants, and had taken Benadryl, an antihistamine, at the time of the shootings, and Mason testified that the combination "increases the probability that adverse effects will be noted."

Ambien bottle Toxicologist: Sleep drug can produce hypnotic state

Jurors reviewed some of the 400 pages of Stewart's medical records and records from a pharmacy showing more than two dozen refills of Ambien for him.

Prosecutors argued during the first three weeks of the trial 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.

Neal had left Stewart about two weeks earlier.

After a two-day delay because of a sick juror, the defense began presenting its case Wednesday.

Rev. Horace Warwick testified that Stewart, who had attended his Aberdeen church for more than 30 years, called him late in the night about three days before the shootings. Stewart was acting "very radical" and used a lot of profanity during the call, he said.

"He was highly disturbed, upset. He sounded like a drunk man to me," Warwick said. "Something was going on. He was highly distraught."

Stewart complained that his barn burned down, his wife had just left him and he had prostate cancer, Warwick said, adding that he tried unsuccessfully to console him.

Warwick said he tried to call Stewart the next morning to talk to him, but no one answered.

Harold Dean Norris, an uncle of Stewart's, testified that his nephew called him around the same time that Neal left. Stewart told him that he didn't know what to do other than relocate and start his life over again.

"He asked me, would I pray for him," Norris said. "I would say he was a nervous wreck. I wouldn't say he was drinking, but he seemed very upset (and was) crying."


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  • Follow_The_Money27617 Aug 25, 2011

    "I am amazed that any of them can sleep at night"

    Thats what the Ambien is for

  • warbirdlover Aug 25, 2011

    Look at the case of Karla fay Tucker in Texas. Her and her boyfriend were high on some type of drugs and went on a rampage. Her being on drugs didn't keep Texas from executing her. How can Stewart claim it was the Ambien. Nobody held hi down and poured the pills down his throat, he took them on his own free will. I think he took the drugs to get the courage to go to Pinelake. If he had refilled his prescrition at least 2 dozen times, he should have know the effets it had on him. An he prescribed a medication with a X in it. What does that mean, there is lots of medicines that the name has a X in it. Was he so uneducated he thought it was poison? If he was sleepwalking tlike the defence say's, why didn't he wake up when the sound of the first blast of the shotgun went off? Why did he only target his wifes car in the parking lot? Why did he give Jerry Avant the Coup de Gras? Loop holes in the laws need to be closed. Like others have said, Expert testimony is flawed. They marke

  • Insane in the left lane Aug 25, 2011

    If you drive impaired and kill somebody, you’re guilty. If you take too much medication and kill somebody, you’re still guilty.

  • Shine -On Aug 25, 2011

    That is a poor arguement because it is historically known that Ambien causes hypnotic reactions in some people, more especially if it is mixed up with other things..

    If you drink alcohol, you can become impaired and not function normally......... what's the difference? (Guilty)!!!

  • BigUNCFan Aug 25, 2011

    He's guilty. I really don't care "why" he did it. The simple fact is he did it and needs to be put to death.

  • ICTrue Aug 25, 2011

    "Seriously we need to start holding these attorneys accountable for flat out lies and conjured up defenses." darkhorse94

    I agree 100%. Putting up a defense in one thing but trying to turn these psychopaths loose on society over any technicaliy, loophole or straightout lie should be a criminal offense in itself.

    Same goes for the "expert" witnesses. There are so many doctors and scientists out there that market themselves to the highest bidder, regardless f the consequences. Their sole purpose is to manipulate the truth to the advantage of whoever is paying them. I am amazed that any of them can sleep at night.

  • YippiYiyoKiYay Aug 25, 2011

    Should not negate responsibility just because he CHOSE to abuse a drug.

  • Tug Boat II Aug 25, 2011

    You are so correct!! I have been saying the same thing about defense attorneys for a long time. Hold their feet to the fire when they lie.

  • anne53ozzy Aug 24, 2011

    Sorry, if this man had 12 times rec dose in his system, assuming he was them the same size he is in the photo, who knows how much he actually took? There may be issues w the drug. There is no issue w his having abused it, apparrenty. Stop whining....

  • tarheel86 Aug 24, 2011

    This man knew exactly what he was doing. He is evil.