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Overdose complicates ex-wife's testimony in Carthage rampage trial

Posted August 10, 2011

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— The ex-wife of a man charged with opening fire inside a Carthage nursing home two years ago was about to take the witness stand Wednesday afternoon when questions about her mental state put her testimony on hold.

Robert Kenneth Stewart is charged with eight counts of murder in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health & Rehab that left seven patients and a nurse dead and three other people wounded. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Prosecutors have argued that Stewart was abusive and controlling of his then-wife, Wanda Neal, prompting her to leave him in the weeks before the shootings. He went to Pinelake, where she worked, to track her down and was so heavily armed that nothing was going to stop him, prosecutors have said.

Neal overdosed on medication on July 31 – the day before Stewart's trial began – and was treated at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital until Tuesday night, when she was released, Assistant Moore County District Attorney Peter Strickland said.

Strickland characterized the overdose as a suicide attempt.

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian demanded to review Neal's medical records before proceeding with her testimony.

"Evidently, the state has known about it for a week, and we’re just finding out about it,” Megerian said. “I don’t think we brought this on."

Pinelake Health & Rehab Overdose complicates ex-wife's testimony in Carthage rampage trial

Neal had her attorney confer with Strickland. She is named as a defendant in a lawsuit against Pinelake by family members of several victims. They claim she alerted the nursing home that Stewart was a threat, but the facility took no action to protect patients.

Superior Court Judge James Webb ordered her to sign a consent form so that Megerian could look at all of her medical records since March 2009. Strickland, Megerian and her attorney were drafting a form for her to sign later this week, meaning she isn't likely to testify before Monday.

Earlier Wednesday, a state medical examiner described in scientific detail the wounds suffered by some of the nursing home shooting victims.

Relatives of the victims wept in court as Dr. Deborah Radisch, North Carolina's chief medical examiner, testified about conducting autopsies the day after the shootings to confirm the cause of death of each victim. Jurors also reviewed autopsy photos.

Megerian has said Stewart doesn't recall what happened the day of the shooting and can't be held legally responsible for his actions. Stewart overdosed on the sleep-aid Ambien the night before the shootings and also was taking anti-depressants at the time, Megerian told jurors last week.


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  • jollyrogered Aug 11, 2011

    JAT I really feel like you are projecting A LOT on to this woman. I mean, you are making some pretty heft and crazy assumptions there based on...?

  • JAT Aug 11, 2011

    jwood- the stuff he told to the pastor was just "she's not a good person" type stuff. I don't recall that he made a threat to him against anyone. Most likely, everyone was scared of this guy and they just wanted to avoid him. The wife/exwife/whatever she is kept going back to him time after time. He was probably like this before they got married but she thought the attention and possessiveness was attractive then.

  • jwood011 Aug 11, 2011

    He knew what he was doing - he made several phone calls earlier in the week to her pastor, etc. If someone had called me ranting like that, I would have alerted authorities & his estranged wife to let them know he was a threat.

  • JAT Aug 11, 2011

    If it was bothering her so much, wonder why she waited to long after the fact to try to take her life. I agree that it sounds like she had a reason - maybe she thought it would postpone his whole trial. If so, then she needs to serve time right along with him. How can you have any feelings for someone who did what he did just to get to you? I understand the guilt she has to feel but maybe if she had thought about this years and years ago, it would never have come to this point. Somehow I bet she would take him back if he were released, though.

  • bill0 Aug 11, 2011

    "Thsi lady should not be having to go through this. As a matter of fact, we shouldn't even be having this trial. We have to prove he's a murderer? We have to prove he murdered those folks. We have to prove the officer shot him? We have to prove WHAT?!!!"

    Uh, guess you haven't been following the trial or reading the article. His defense team has admitted all the facts. ie he killed all those people. They are arguing that he was hopped up on sleeping pills and didn't understand what he was doing. Good luck with that argument.....

  • jollyrogered Aug 11, 2011

    I cant imagine the emotional strain that this woman is going through right now. I hope she finds strength.

  • ConcernedNCC Aug 11, 2011

    rickandlinda88: What world do you live in?

  • boneymaroney13 Aug 11, 2011

    Thsi lady should not be having to go through this. As a matter of fact, we shouldn't even be having this trial. We have to prove he's a murderer? We have to prove he murdered those folks. We have to prove the officer shot him? We have to prove WHAT?!!!

  • bill0 Aug 11, 2011

    "she's stalling"

    You might want to read the article again. She isn't stalling. She was prepared to testify. HIS defense team asked for more time to investigate her medical history.

  • Ambygirl Aug 11, 2011

    rickandlinda88-- why would you say she is stalling?? SHE didn't kill those poor helpless people!! She is probably at the very end of her rope and does not know how she is going to take another moment of this torture that has been put upon her. She is a defendant in a suit that is making her feel like she caused this. SHE is not guilty, he is.....