Local News

Accused nursing home shooter to switch cells

Posted February 9, 2010 4:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2010 6:23 p.m. EST

— A Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered that the man accused of killing eight people at a Moore County nursing home last year be returned to Central Prison in Raleigh.

Robert Kenneth Stewart, 46, is charged with eight counts of murder in a March 29 shooting spree at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage. Seven patients and a nurse were killed in the rampage, which ended when a police officer shot the gunman in the chest.

Stewart was held at Central Prison, which has a medical center for inmates, for 9½ months while being treated for his wound. Superior Court Judge James Webb also ordered that Stewart be held at the maximum-security prison for safekeeping.

Following a court hearing last month, Stewart was moved to the Moore County jail, which prompted a complaint from defense attorney Jonathan Megerian.

"He doesn't have a bullet in this body at the current time, but that's not the only reason he was in safekeeping," Megerian said Tuesday, citing death threats against Stewart that were mailed to the Carthage Police Department last year.

Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger argued that the safekeeping order is no longer necessary. Stewart is receiving his medication, and the Moore County Sheriff's Department is equipped to protect him, she said.

“The jailers are the experts. They don’t have any concerns at this point,” Krueger said.

She added that the state Department of Correction requires a new safekeeping order after every court hearing.

Judge John O. Craig III said that Webb's order clearly stated that Stewart should remain in Central Prison while awaiting trial.

"I don't think I have any choice but to obey Judge Webb's order," Craig said.

Krueger said she would present her arguments to Webb next week to persuade him to lift his order so that Stewart could be held in Moore County, which would eliminate deputies having to transport him back and forth from Raleigh for court hearings.

Megerian has also asked to have the trial, in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, moved out of Moore County. A hearing on that motion is set for May 10.

Authorities have not offered a motive for the slayings, but Stewart's estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, a Pinelake employee working that morning, said she believed Stewart was looking for her.