Local News

Accused nursing home shooter said wife left him for 'last time'

Posted August 5, 2011 12:53 p.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2011 3:59 p.m. EDT

— Four days before he allegedly went on a shooting rampage in a Carthage nursing home two years ago, Robert Kenneth Stewart told a friend his wife had left him for "the last time."

Stewart is charged with eight counts of murder in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health and Rehab that killed a nurse and seven patients and wounded three other people. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Cynthia Brewer, who lives next door to Stewart's former in-laws and has known him and his ex-wife, Wanda Neal, for years, testified Friday that Stewart called her late on the night of March 25, 2009, to ask a favor.

Neal had left him again, and he wanted her parents to go to his house to get her dog and cat, Brewer recalled.

The Stewarts had divorced previously but then remarried.

"He just wanted me to know how he felt about us and that this would be the last time that Wanda would ever leave him," Brewer recalled him saying on the phone. "'I want you to tell them this would be the last time.' He told me that several times."

She said she thought he just meant that the marriage was finally over.

Neal was working at Pinelake on the day of the shootings, and prosecutors have argued that he went there to track her down and was so heavily armed that nothing was going to stop him.

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

Sgt. Thomas Carpenter of the Pinehurst Police Department said he has known Neal for years and noted that her demeanor always changed whenever Stewart was around.

"When he was there, she was afraid to engage in conversation," Carpenter testified. "A lot of times, he was just standing there. He didn't have a lot to say."

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.

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.

Rebecca Powell, an emergency room nurse at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, where Stewart was taken for treatment of his gunshot wound, testified Thursday that he appeared to be coherent but was suicidal.

Powell said Stewart told her he went looking for Neal at her workplace but that "everything went kind of foggy" and he didn't remember anything until he was surrounded by police.

Stewart told Powell that he took six "nerve pills" but that he couldn't remember the name of the medication, she said.

Lt. Jerry McDonald of the Pinehurst Police Department testified Friday that he spent eight hours with Stewart at the hospital and that Stewart was alert and responding quickly to all questions.

"He was cooperative. He didn't cry. He seemed to be as normal as anybody else," McDonald said.