Local News

Carthage chief ordered to keep hate mail for accused nursing home shooter

Posted September 10, 2009 3:46 p.m. EDT
Updated September 10, 2009 6:09 p.m. EDT

— A judge on Thursday ordered Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie to stop throwing away hate mail directed at the man charged with killing eight people at a nursing home during a March shooting rampage.

McKenzie said his department has received "countless" threatening letters to be passed along to Robert Kenneth Stewart since the March 29 attacks at Pinelake Health and Rehab in Carthage. Seven patients and a nurse died in the shootings, which ended when a police officer shot and wounded the gunman.

Stewart is being held at Central Prison in Raleigh.

He is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, as well as two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, one count of assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer, two counts of assault by pointing a gun and one count of discharging a weapon into occupied property.

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian filed a motion to preserve the hate mail, and Superior Court Judge James Webb ordered McKenzie to hand over all letters from now on to Moore County prosecutors and to summarize the ones he threw away "as best he can."

"It's not the chief's job to determine evidentiary value," Megerian said, adding that the letters would be "certainly useful in a change of venue motion."

No request has been filed to move the trial out of Moore County. Prosecutors have said they plan to seek the death penalty against Stewart.

"I'd use them in jury selection," Megerian said after the hearing. "I'd like to know if they came from people who are likely to be selected for a jury in the county or if they came from other counties."

Webb also approved prosecutors' request to obtain DNA evidence from Stewart through a swab of the lining in his mouth.

Investigators haven't disclosed a motive in the shootings, but Stewart's wife, Wanda Stewart, who works at the nursing home, has said she believes he went to the facility to shoot her.

Wanda Stewart was at Thursday's court hearing but declined to comment.

According to search warrants, investigators said Stewart told a nurse he had taken six nerve pills prior to the shootings and did not remember anything about them.

Carthage police officer Justin Garner, who wounded Robert Stewart to end the shooting spree, and three others were wounded in the incident.

"I just want to see justice done. It's a tragedy," Jerry Avant, the father of the nurse killed in the rampage, said after the hearing. "It was hard. I know all the eyes were on him. He didn't look like a vicious person or nothing, but you never know what's going on his his mind."