Local News

Change of venue sought in nursing home murder trial

Posted October 6, 2010 7:33 p.m. EDT
Updated October 6, 2010 7:56 p.m. EDT

— Attorneys for a man accused of going on a shooting rampage at a Carthage nursing home last March argued before a judge Wednesday that media coverage surrounding the case will prevent their client from getting a fair trial.

In asking a Superior Court judge to change the venue of Robert Kenneth Stewart’s murder trial, attorney Jonathan Megerian revealed a phone survey of 383 Moore County residents in March that showed 95 percent of respondents heard about the case and that 55 percent have made up their minds about Stewart’s guilt.

Stewart faces the death penalty on eight counts of first-degree murder in the March 29, 2009, massacre at at Pinelake Health and Rehab, where seven patients and a nurse were killed.

Megerian said Wednesday that of those who have formed an opinion about the case, 95 percent said they believe Stewart is definitely or probably guilty, and 37 percent said he should receive the death penalty.

But Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger argued that the survey doesn't take into account the attorneys' methods for eliminating potentially biased jurors.

The judge also asked both sides when they'd be ready to begin the trial.

Krueger said the state is ready, but Megerian said he needs until next fall and that he is mounting a defense based on his mental health and drug use.

The hearing continues Thursday

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.

A Carthage police officer responding to reports of gunfire at the nursing home shot Stewart in the chest, ending the rampage.