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Was accused nursing home shooter bent on revenge or drug-addled?

Posted September 1, 2011

— Jurors must decide whether a man accused of opening fire inside a Carthage nursing home two years ago was intent on making his wife pay for leaving him or was simply on too much medication to know what he was doing.

Prosecutors and a defense attorney presented their closing arguments Thursday in the month-long trial of Robert Stewart, who 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.

Jurors are expected to begin their deliberations Friday.

Moore County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Bartholomew told jurors that Stewart went to Pinelake, where his then-wife, Wanda Neal, worked, to track her down after she had left him two weeks earlier.

"What do we know about Robert Stewart? We know that he was possessive, manipulative and he’s angry, and he had Wanda scared,” Bartholomew said.

She grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun and loudly racked it, noting that Stewart carried four weapons into the nursing home and repeatedly reloaded during his shooting rampage, which ended only when a Carthage police office shot him in the shoulder.

"He went to Pinelake Health and Rehab Center to tie up loose ends," she said. "He went there with a fixed purpose, and he didn’t stop until he was stopped."

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian said Stewart's crumbling marriage doesn't explain the shooting spree, noting that Stewart's only previous criminal history was a single drunken driving charge 25 years ago.

"He worked all his life until he was disabled, and one Sunday morning, he gets in his car and kills eight people? Doesn’t that need some kind of explanation?” Megerian asked jurors.

Nursing home shooting trial coming to close Nursing home shooting trial coming to close

The defense has argued that Stewart couldn't control his actions because of an overdose of prescription medication.

Evidence presented during the trial showed that Stewart had 12 times the normal dose of Ambien, a sleep aid, in his system more than nine hours after the shootings. He also had Lexapro and Xanax, two anti-depressants, and Benadryl, an antihistamine, in his system.

Megerian argued that the medications left Stewart in a hypnotic state called parasomnia, so he cannot be held legally responsible for the shootings.

"I don’ t think we can blow off the Ambien. I don’t think we can blow off the Xanax," he told jurors. "People have killed themselves in parasomnia. People have jumped off balconies. People have killed other people in parasomnia.”

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge James Webb ruled that, in order to find Stewart guilty of first-degree murder, jurors must be convinced that he was in control of his actions.

Stewart cried out for help two days before the shootings, Megerian said, noting that he went to his family doctor in tears. The lawyer chastised a nurse practitioner, saying she improperly gave Stewart anxiety medication without any regard to his taking Ambien.

"She gave him a bag of pills and sent him out the door," Megerian said.

Webb has 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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  • barbstillkickin Sep 2, 2011

    Easy question. Answer is simple he planned this out. He had guns ready and loaded he drove there with the intent to kill his wife. What more can we prove. I am on prescription drugs so I wonder can I also get a get out of jail free card. Stop letting people get by with these stupid excuses. I got so bad I did not even remember months that happened but I know I did not kill anyone.

  • pebbles262004 Sep 2, 2011

    Well let's see if they post this one.....He knew what he was doing, he has always been a big bully....so let his folks take up for him all they want to,they know it's the truth...

  • wbearp Sep 1, 2011

    He admitted in open court he killed these people. Case closed...on to the sentencing phase.

  • Sherlock Sep 1, 2011

    What a shame, this guy is going to go free and all the deaths are for nothing. He knew what he was doing, if he did not know why did he take guns with him, why not go it one on one?

  • Servent Sep 1, 2011

    quit making excuses for your actions, he did it prosecute hie to the fullest.

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Sep 1, 2011

    "Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian said Stewart's crumbling marriage doesn't explain the shooting spree, noting that Stewart's only previous criminal history was a single drunken driving charge 25 years ago."

    Criminal history perhaps, but what about his past abusive history with his ex-wife that caused her to leave him more than once?

  • terribletaste Sep 1, 2011

    I don't care if you are insane, drugged and drunk or have significantly impaired cognitive functioning.. etc. You kill someone, you deserve the same.

  • dorecic2 Sep 1, 2011

    It doesn't matter if he was on drugs, or sleep walking, or on the way to church. He committed multiple murders.
    If "Not Guilty by reason of insanity" is really a valid plea, then you may as well close the court room as far as murder is concerned. No sane person will take the life of another. You have to be insane to commit murder.

  • Capitals Fan Sep 1, 2011

    Who cares? The man killed 8 innocent people; that is all that matters. Capitals Fan \ IF IT HAD BEEN ONE OF YOUR LOVE ONES KILLED, HOW MUCH CARING WOULD YOU HAVE HAD THEN?

    What??? Do you not understand what I said?

  • Jbmat Sep 1, 2011

    Blah blah blah Liberals will always side with the "poor innocent criminal" regardless of what he did. Who forced all those Ambien down his throat? He shoulda used the Twikie defense, his size says that may fly.
    If he gets off, let one of the victims family take some Ambien and go shoot him a few time in their "sleep". If it works for him, it works for all.
    O woe is me, I can't cope, nothing is my fault, it's all "them".