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State rests in trial of accused nursing home shooter

Prosecutors in the trial of a man accused of killing eight people in a shooting rampage at a Moore County nursing home two years ago rested their case Thursday.

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CARTHAGE, N.C. — Prosecutors in the trial of a man accused of killing eight people in a shooting rampage at a Moore County nursing home two years ago rested their case Thursday.

Stewart is accused of killing seven patients and a nurse in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Prosecutors have argued that Stewart went to Pinelake, where his then-wife, Wanda Neal, worked, to track her down and that he was so heavily armed that nothing was going to stop him.

Megerian said 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 maintained.

On Thursday, a clinical psychologist detailed tests on Stewart done in the spring and summer.

Dr. LaVonne Fox from Central Region Psychiatric Hospital testified that a personality and emotional test, known as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or MMPI, was given to Stewart this spring.

Fox said results showed inconsistencies in his answers and that he could be exaggerating his mental illness, so she deemed the test invalid. Fox did not give the test, only analyzed the results.

Psychologist James Hilke was hired by the defense to administer the test. He is expected to testify for the defense.

In a heated cross-examination, defense lawyer Jonathan Megerian challenged Fox’s decision to dismiss the results, saying Stewart responded “true” to statements such as "I'm sure I'm being talked about," and "I have strange and peculiar thoughts."

Stewart also responded “true” to the statement, "I have had periods where I carried out activities that I later did not know I had been doing,” Megerian said.

Megerian said given Stewart's situation, his responses were appropriate and that he was not faking anything.

Prosecutors asked Fox why she did not administer the test again herself. She said it was ill-advised to have him retake the test so soon.

Fox said she met with Stewart three times in June to administer other tests, including one to check his memory. She said the tests to check Stewart's memory recall had good results.

Also on Thursday, Neal's son, Derek Luck, testified that his mother lived in constant paranoia after leaving Stewart.

"She was very scared. She didn't want to leave the house. She would check her tires to make sure they weren't cut. She would look out the window to see if his truck was going down the road," Luck said.

Luck said Stewart would call late at night asking for Neal. 

"There were plenty of phone calls. We ended up taking the phone off the hook after a week. That's when he started calling everybody else," Luck said. 

Last week, jurors heard angry phone messages Stewart left for Neal's pastor. 

Moore County Superior Court Judge James Webb ruled not to allow testimony from a Moore County deputy about a statement Neal gave about a confrontation she had with Stewart a few years before the shooting. In the statement Neal gave days after the Pinelake shootings, she said Stewart aimed a gun at her and told her she was the reason for his problems.

The defense argued that the testimony contradicted testimony from Neal on Tuesday, where she described the incident, saying Neal pulled out a gun but did not point it at her.

Webb also ruled against allowing testimony from Neal's friend Linda Buckingham about a conversation she had with Neal. Buckingham said Neal called her in the weeks before the shooting saying Stewart pulled a gun on her and that she was leaving him.

Neal did not mention the conversation during her testimony this week.

The trial will resume on Monday with the defense's case. 


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