Local News

Prosecution close to wrapping up in nursing home shooting case

Posted August 15, 2011 11:33 a.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2011 1:18 p.m. EDT

— Prosecutors said Monday that they expect to wrap up their case this week in the capital trial of a man accused of opening fire inside a Carthage nursing home two years ago.

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.

Several jurors called in sick Monday, so testimony was delayed until Tuesday, when Stewart's ex-wife, Wanda Neal, is expected to take the witness stand.

Neal was set to testify last week when prosecutors revealed that she had attempted suicide by overdosing on medications on July 31, the day before the trial began.

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian questioned her competency to testify and demanded to see her recent medical records. Neal signed a consent order on Thursday to open her medical records since March 2009 to review.

Superior Court Judge James Webb on Monday unsealed some of Neal's prescription drug records.

Defense attorney Franklin Wells questioned whether an anti-psychotic drug given to Neal at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, where she was treated after the overdose, and two other medications prescribed for her upon her release "might affect her ability to recall or narrate the evidence she purports to give."

Prosecutors have argued that Stewart was abusive and controlling of 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.

Megerian told jurors at the start of the trial that Stewart overdosed on the sleep aid Ambien the night before the shootings, which put him in a hypnotic state that left him powerless over his actions. Stewart doesn't recall what happened the day of the shooting and can't be held legally responsible, Megerian has argued.

On Thursday, a state toxicologist testified that a blood test taken about 9½ hours after the shootings showed that Stewart had Ambien, the antihistamine Benadryl and the anti-depressant Lexapro in his system.

Megerian said during cross-examination that the defense team sent the blood sample to a private lab for testing, and the results showed Stewart had 12 times the normal dose of Ambien in his system.

In addition to Neal, prosecutors plan to have two psychiatrists and two medical examiners testify this week. Megerian said he was prepared to start presenting the defense next Monday and could finish in a couple of days.