Local News

Opening statements set for accused nursing home gunman

Posted July 31, 2011 9:18 p.m. EDT
Updated August 1, 2011 6:09 a.m. EDT

— Opening statements begin Monday in the trial of a man accused of killing eight people and wounding three others during a shooting rampage at a Carthage nursing home two years ago.

Robert Kenneth Stewart admitted in open court earlier this month that he killed seven patients and a nurse at the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center on March 29, 2009.

His attorneys, however, have argued that because he was under the influence of alcohol and prescription medication, he can't be held legally responsible for his actions.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

"It's just not fair that he should live, and these eight people are dead," said Barbara Pennypacker, who lost her 98-year-old mother, Louise De Kler, in the attack.

The final juror was seated last week after 750 citizens were summoned for jury selection in nearby Stanly County.

The process took three weeks and happened in Stanly County because of extensive pre-trial publicity in the case.

The trial, which will be held in Moore County, is expected to last four to six weeks. Jurors will be bused to Moore County each day.

Authorities say that Stewart was gunning for his estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, who worked at the facility as a nursing assistant. She told WRAL News that she had left him weeks before the shooting.

Carthage police officer Justin Garner ended the massacre when he shot Robert Stewart in the chest. Garner was wounded in the rampage.

Tessie Garner, 75; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jesse Musser, 88; Bessie Hedrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; and nurse Jerry Avant Jr., 39, also died in the attacks. (Read more about the victims.)

Meanwhile, the small town of Carthage is still trying to move forward after a day that changed so much.

"You have to keep going," Pennypacker said. "You have no choice."