State News

Carthage nursing home massacre trial goes to jury

Posted September 2, 2011

— A jury began deliberating Friday in the trial of a man accused of shooting and killing eight people at a Carthage nursing home two years ago.

Robert Stewart, 47, 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 deliberated for about 5½ hours before recessing for the night. Deliberations will resume Saturday morning.

Superior Court Judge James Webb spent nearly three hours Friday morning instructing jurors on the law regarding the various charges against Stewart.

Jurors could reach any of three possible verdicts on the charges related to each of the shooting victims.

To convict Stewart of first-degree murder, the jury must determine that he was in control of his behavior at the nursing home and planned to kill the victims.

If jurors determine that Stewart didn't intend to kill anyone during the rampage, they could find him guilty of second-degree murder. Convictions on that charge wouldn't carry a possible death sentence.

The jury also could find Stewart not guilty by reason of unconsciousness or insanity.

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.

Pinelake Health & Rehab Carthage rampage trial in jury's hands

Webb told the jury that the defense must only prove to their satisfaction – not beyond a reasonable doubt – that Stewart was temporarily insane at the time of the shootings to acquit him.

Prosecutors, Webb said, have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Stewart was in control of his actions at the nursing home.

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

During their deliberations, jurors asked to review Stewart's medical records and to see if there were any warning labels on the anti-depressants he was taking at the time of the shootings.

If Stewart is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Webb said, he would be admitted to a state psychiatric  hospital and have a first review after 50 days. He would be released if doctors determine he is no longer a danger to himself or others.

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  • slw36999 Sep 2, 2011

    If you look at the labeling for Ambien (or CR, the extended release) the drug has peak levels at approximately 2 hours and tapers off to low levels after 8 hours. He didn't take it the night before and have 12 times the normal dose the next day. Plus you have the other drugs in his system which are going to cause drug drug interactions. Sounds like he could have taken them right before (maybe planning on suicide?)

  • cantstandya Sep 2, 2011

    How do they really know how much of anything he took other than what was determined by some guess work was his blood drawn and each drug seperated for amount of content I mean this guy is really big his capacity would be greater than most people this line of defense has become a major problem since anyone could testify to taking drugs if that is all one has to do to beat a murder rap.

  • BigBangTheorist Sep 2, 2011

    I find it hard to believe that tests showed he had 12 times the recommended dosage in his system, if he had taken them the night before. I don't think the drug would stay in one's system that long, at those levels. So, either he lied about when he took the Ambien or he lied about how much he took. Either way, it sounds like he overdosed specifically to use it as an excuse.

  • whatdidyouexpect Sep 2, 2011

    myersjk, I've been wondering that myself. If he gets found not guilty, you can bet someone else will try it too. Also, people are comparing this with people who kill someone will DWI, although they are still guilty of murder, in his case, he loaded several guns to take with him, this shows premeditation, I would guess that in most DWI cases, the people were not intent on killing someone while driving. (but are still responsible)

  • myersjk Sep 2, 2011

    I can't believe that anyone that had taken 12 times the normal amount of ambien could walk, much less hold and shoot a gun. Did anybody ever think that maybe he took these right before the shooting in order to have a defense?

  • solarflare40 Sep 2, 2011

    If he is found not guilty, I going to the doctor to get on some kind of medication the same day. That way, on the off chance I do something stupid and illegal, I can have my slimy lawyer blame it on my medication.

  • kornfan2448 Sep 2, 2011

    If found "not guilty", I'm afraid it will set a whole precedent that every psychopath that's hooked on prescription medication and goes on a killing spree can not be found guilty because of their abuse of narcotics. Very frightening.

  • solarflare40 Sep 2, 2011

    so, they haven't reached a verdict yet? It should have only taken about 5 minutes...

  • Jakethesnake Sep 2, 2011

    guilty first degree, gotta be man c'mon, your gonna blame a massacare on ambien.

  • iamsiam1096 Sep 2, 2011

    How a lawyer with a conscious would find joy in freeing this man is beyond me. Lawyers seem to think woohoo look how good I am I got a murderer off the hook...so sad. He is guilty, he did it, he chose to take the drugs he took. No different than a person choosing to drink and do drugs and drive and kill someone in an accident. Either way someone is dead and someone did it...the only decision going on should be 1st or 2nd degree.

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