Local News

Carthage nursing home shooter will spend life in prison

Posted September 3, 2011
Updated September 4, 2011

— A jury on Saturday found Robert Stewart guilty of second-degree murder in the 2009 shooting rampage at a Carthage nursing home that left eight people dead.

He was sentenced to 141 to 179 years in prison.

Stewart, 47, gunned down seven patients and a nurse in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center.

His sentence was announced after the victims' family members made statements to the court. Stewart could have been sentenced to death if the jury had found him guilty of first-degree murder.

Prosecutor Peter Strickland said he was "disappointed" that Stewart wasn't convicted on first-degree murder. Some of the victims' family members were visibly upset at the jury's decision on the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

"I believe he deserved first-degree (and) life in prison without parole," said Jill Degarmo, whose fiancé, Jerry Avant, was killed in the shooting spree.

Holly Foster, the daughter of shooting victim Jesse Musser, agreed.

"I feel like my dad died for 15 years. I'm happy with the total number of years. I just think our loved ones, we deserved to hear first-degree," Foster said. "I don't feel like justice was done."

Families disappointed with second-degree murder conviction Families disappointed with second-degree murder conviction

The jury also found Stewart guilty of assault with a deadly weapon for shooting and injuring Michael Lee Cotton, who was visiting the nursing home, and Carthage police officer Justin Garner, who was credited with ending the rampage. The jury could have found Stewart guilty of a more serious charge, attempted first-degree murder, for those shootings.

Jurors also found him guilty of assaulting a law enforcement officer and guilty of pointing a gun. They deliberated for about 5½ hours Friday before recessing for the night and returning Saturday morning.

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian argued during the month-long trial that Stewart was taking various prescription medicines at the time of the shootings and had overdosed on the sleep aid Ambien the previous night. The combination of drugs in his system left him in a hypnotic state where he was unable to control his actions, Megerian said.

"We're extremely relieved, and we're glad this is over," Megerian said.

Prosecutors argued that Stewart was on a vengeful mission to track down his estranged wife, Wanda Neal, who worked at the nursing home, because she had left him two weeks earlier.

As Neal was exiting the courthouse Saturday, she said she hopes Stewart "rots in hell."

11 Comments

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  • wildcat Sep 6, 2011

    Hooray! I told many on this board that he would get life in prison. Now he will face his dire consequences while living there. The prison clan will certainly take "care" of him.

  • jurydoc Sep 6, 2011

    A hearty thank you to the jurors in this case. It is one thing to sit out here in GOLO land and second guess with the "If I were on that jury, I would..." It's quite another to actually sit in the box, listen to the testimony as well as the LEGAL instructions and to try to do what you have been sworn to do. Research finds that MOST jurors take their positions very seriously and honestly try to follow the law as it has been given to them. Just remember, that part "follow the law as it has been given to them" frequently conflicts with "the law as we would like it to be."

  • Wendellcatlover Sep 6, 2011

    I'm sorry he wasn't convicted of 1st degree murder, but at least he won't ever be out again!

  • fayncmike Sep 5, 2011

    "I am constantly amazed at people in the bible belt screaming for the death penalty. First of all, it is MUCH more expensive to go through the death row process than it is to house them for life in prison. Secondly, states and nations without the death penalty have MUCH lower murder rates than those that do have it. But it's not surprising that folks in NC would scream for a man to be executed. After all, recent studies show that the more religious the area, the more the people living there condone torture.
    Saberage"

    Well stated but you must learn to not confuse the issue with a bunch of facts. They apparently have no place here. Also you must remember that the rank and file "Christian" here is required to act in a Christian manner only one hour a week on Sunday mornings. The rest of the time they are allowed to be just a callous and blood thirsty as they please.

  • Vita Brevis Ars Longa Sep 5, 2011

    I am constantly amazed at people in the bible belt screaming for the death penalty. First of all, it is MUCH more expensive to go through the death row process than it is to house them for life in prison. Secondly, states and nations without the death penalty have MUCH lower murder rates than those that do have it. But it's not surprising that folks in NC would scream for a man to be executed. After all, recent studies show that the more religious the area, the more the people living there condone torture.

  • fayncmike Sep 5, 2011

    We don't employ the death penalty for two reasons. firstly we don't sink to the level of the criminals. and secondly it would cost the state more to execute the man than house him for the rest of his life. Or would you prefer a drum head trial and a lynch mob?

  • warbirdlover Sep 5, 2011

    I did a little research and found out it cost millions more for the death penalty than life in prison. Appeal after appeal runs the cost through the sky. The death pealty in NC might as well be taken off the books. Let him rot in jail, I always thought life without parole was worse than death.

  • RMC10 Sep 5, 2011

    NC justice system continues to show that NC is soft on crime - murder even multiple murders get a slap on the hand, and taxpayers will continue to pay for this young man for the next 40 years. What will it take for the death penalty - decapitate a child, run down and murder your wife, kill a whole bunch of innocent seniors - (all recent verdicts in NC) this man should have absolutely gotten the death sentence, ambien will not make you drive 20 minutes, load up the weapons and ammo, and be cognizant to carry out the crime (you take that much ambien - you go to sleep - period.) Slick attorneys and carefully instructed juries obstruct justice.

  • fayncmike Sep 5, 2011

    "So we get to feed and care for this waste of flesh for the rest of his life, thats justice I think not !!!!!
    scrap0693"

    OK so I'm wrong, set him free.

  • scrap0693 Sep 5, 2011

    So we get to feed and care for this waste of flesh for the rest of his life, thats justice I think not !!!!!

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