Local News

Accused gunman made angry calls before nursing home shooting

Posted August 8, 2011 5:29 a.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2011 3:59 p.m. EDT

— In the days leading up to a shooting rampage at a Carthage nursing home, the alleged gunman made a series of angry phone calls to his wife's acquaintances, authorities testified Monday.

Robert Kenneth 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.

Prosecutors have argued that Stewart was abusive and controlling of his wife, Wanda Neal, prompting her to leave him in the weeks before the massacre. He went to Pinelake, where she worked, to track her down and was so heavily armed that nothing was going to stop him, prosecutors have said.

Stewart pumped two shots into the headrest of Neal's PT Cruiser, which was parked outside Pinelake, before going inside, witnesses testified.

Detective Eric Galloway of the Moore County Sheriff's Office, who collected physical evidence from the nursing home parking lot, read a transcript Monday of a phone call Stewart made to Neal's pastor about a week before the shootings.

"I just wanted to let you know what a good Christian she is. She found out I got prostate cancer, and she left me. That's a fine Christian, ain't it?" the transcript read.

Stewart called the pastor twice more in the middle of the night to express similar feelings about Neal.

Cynthia Brewer, who lives next door to Stewart's former in-laws and has known him and Neal for years, testified Friday that Stewart also called her four days before the shootings. He said Neal had left him for "the last time" and that her parents needed to go to his home and pick up her dog and cat.

Neal is expected to testify Tuesday.

Aaron Morris, who did some work on the Stewart home, testified Monday that Stewart verbally abused Neal and threatened to kill her if she left him.

"As long as she was doing what he wanted, she was fine. I never saw him lay a hand on her, but (there was) definitely abusive language," Morris said.

Superior Court Judge James Webb disallowed the testimony, however, saying the actions Morris witnessed occurred years before the Pinelake shootings.

Jurors also reviewed photos of the crime scene on Monday, and family members of the shooting victims wept in court as Detective Bradley Whitaker of the Moore County Sheriff's Office described the photos, which showed people slumped in wheelchairs after being shot and others dead in bed.

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.

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