Local News

Prosecutors must disprove defense theory in Carthage rampage trial

Posted August 31, 2011

— A judge ruled Wednesday that prosecutors must prove that a Moore County man wasn't under the influence of a sleeping medication two years ago when he opened fire inside a Carthage nursing home, killing eight people.

Closing arguments are set for Thursday in Robert Stewart's trial. 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.

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.

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.

Megerian told jurors that Stewart was taking several medications and overdosed on the sleep aid 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.

Because the evidence of the Ambien in Stewart's system was presented in the prosecution's case, Superior Court Judge James Webb ruled that jurors must assume Stewart wasn't in control of his actions. To convict him of murder, the judge ruled, jurors must be convinced otherwise by the evidence.

The defense theory, called automatism, differs from involuntary intoxication, which isn't a legal excuse for committing a crime, because evidence has shown that doctors prescribed the Ambien for Stewart.

Webb rejected a defense request to allow the jury the option of convicting Stewart of manslaughter, but they will be allowed to convict him of either first-degree or second-degree murder, depending on whether they believe he planned on shooting his victims.

A second-degree murder conviction doesn't carry the possibility of a death sentence.


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  • quilting bee Sep 1, 2011

    I am upset with the judge. He could have drugs in his system and still not hypnotic. Also, cases I have read about automatism indicates that there are some behaviors afterwards, including dreams of parallel activities (like choking a wife while dreaming of hunting a deer barehanded), confusion, and lack of pain. Did he feel the shot to the shoulder? If he did, he wasn't hypnotic. That is more a medical decision that a judiciary one. Also, having a prescription and not following the orders is basically the same as having too many "legal" drinks leading to involuntary intoxication.

  • 1 awesome Dad Sep 1, 2011

    Give him a handful of pills and a the keys to the local McDonalds and I wonder how many Happy Meals he can he incoherently.

    WWII heroes were slaughtered and upstanding hard working citizens were blasted to kingdom come only to lay on the floor and experience the most horriffic agonizing death imaginable and all our court system can do is argue if he knew what he was doing or not?

    The issue is not whether he knew, the issue is not that Mr. Stewart was a victim of his own actions or not

    The issue is that why cant our court system serve justice for the victims of Mr. Stewarts brutality as he intentionally took those pills, he intentionally drove to the rest home he intentionally fire shots in his targets car and he intentionally murdered his victims. If this clown gets off then every NC citizen should arm themselves with Ambien and a firearm so if it is necessary to protect yourself you can always claim I didnt know I was defending myself until it is was too late

  • Tug Boat II Sep 1, 2011

    Face it folks, the judge and defense attorney probably are members of the same country club. I can’t believe that the judge tied the jury’s hands like this. Robert Stewart will most likely be given 5-8 years by the judge and be out in 2. What has happened to our justice system where the criminals have more rights than citizens?

  • Wendellcatlover Sep 1, 2011

    Are you kidding me? How is the prosecutor going to disprove in his closing argument that he wasn't under the influence of the drugs? Of course he was. He took enough to knock out a rhinoceros. I don't think that's the issue. It was a legal drug that he was prescribed by a dr. He had had it refilled over 2 dozen times. That's pleanty of time for him to know how this drug effected him. The face that he decided to overmedicate should not be an excuse for a rampage/murder spree. The courts suck!

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Aug 31, 2011

    lilypony - "Somebody can be convicted of murder after voluntarily consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, driving somewhere, causing a wreck and killing somebody.

    However, you can get away with it when you consume excessive amounts of ambien, drive somewhere, walk inside and kill people."

    GREAT point!!!

    The point is, this guy took the Ambien voluntarily. No one held him down and shoved it down his throat, then drove him to the home, gave him firearms and dropped him off.

    HE armed himself and HE drove to the place.

    If that doesn't prove cogent thought and intent, I don't know what will.

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Aug 31, 2011


  • 12-21-12 Aug 31, 2011

    If its not disproved will he be a free man?

  • lilypony Aug 31, 2011

    Somebody can be convicted of murder after voluntarily consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, driving somewhere, causing a wreck and killing somebody.

    However, you can get away with it when you consume excessive amounts of ambien, drive somewhere, walk inside and kill people.

  • didisaythat Aug 31, 2011

    Sad that the judge is already pushing the jury in the direction that everything the defense is the truth. I could tell everyone I don't remember last night and they have to somehow prove I can. Boy don't know why criminals get set free. Another example of making the police and prosecution work for the defense attorneys. Their plan is working, soon out will be impossible to convict anyone.

  • Ilovemyboys Aug 31, 2011

    I bet he ends up suing the drug company and makes millions... unbelievable.