Local News

Accused nursing home shooter was coherent at hospital

Posted August 4, 2011 10:36 a.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2011 3:59 p.m. EDT

— After a shooting rampage ended at a Carthage nursing home two years ago, the suspected gunman was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, and he appeared calm and coherent, a nurse testified Thursday.

Robert Kenneth Stewart is charged with eight counts of murder in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health and Rehab. A nurse and seven patients at the facility were killed, and three other people were wounded.

Stewart could face the death penalty if convicted.

Darlene Harris was working at Pinelake's front desk the morning of the shooting and said she didn't have time to call 911 when Stewart came through the front door with a shotgun. Instead, she said, she ran down a hall and jumped out a window.

"I went through the gate and ran through the woods. Other employees were running. I ran to a house," Harris testified. "I felt it was better to go somewhere that was crowded, so I ran to the McDonald's. I remember opening the door and getting into a corner. I just stood there."

In the chaos, she said, she managed to call 911. An ambulance picked her up because she thought she might have suffered a minor heart attack while running for her life.

Harris sobbed on the witness stand as she recalled the terror of being taken to FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital because she feared the gunman might have gone to the hospital as well.

"I didn't want him to see me. I begged them, 'Please, cover my face!' I didn't want him to shoot me too," she said.

The shootings ended when a Carthage police officer shot Stewart in the shoulder.

Stewart was taken to Moore Regional for treatment, and emergency room nurse Rebecca Powell testified that he was "very alert" and his speech wasn't slurred. Although Stewart had a blank stare, he didn't appear to have overdosed on sedatives, she said.

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian has said Stewart doesn't recall what happened the day of the shooting and can't be held legally responsible for his actions. Stewart overdosed on the sleep-aid Ambien the night before the shootings and also was taking anti-depressants at the time, Megerian said.

"I remember him telling me that he had been depressed, that he had been talking to his aunt and that he wanted to see his wife," Powell said. "He was very nervous about seeing his wife.”

Wanda Stewart, who worked at Pinelake, had left her husband a few days before the shootings, witnesses said.

"I asked him where she was at. She was at work," Powell said. "He did say that everything went kind of foggy after that. The next thing he remembered was that he was surrounded by police officers and brought to the emergency room."

Several witnesses testified this week that Stewart was deliberate in his actions during the rampage, saying he took time to reload while walking the halls of Pinelake.

Powell said Robert Stewart told her he took six "nerve pills" but that he couldn't remember the name.

He said he wouldn't try to harm anyone in the hospital but wanted to commit suicide, Powell said.

"He did say he did want to harm himself,” she said. "He did say that he would shoot himself.”

Robert Stewart never asked about the conditions of any of the shooting victims, she said.