Overdose complicates ex-wife's testimony in Carthage rampage trial
Posted August 10, 2011 11:42 a.m. EDT
Updated August 10, 2011 6:23 p.m. EDT
Carthage, N.C. — The ex-wife of a man charged with opening fire inside a Carthage nursing home two years ago was about to take the witness stand Wednesday afternoon when questions about her mental state put her testimony on hold.
Robert Kenneth Stewart is charged with eight counts of murder in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health & Rehab that left seven patients and a nurse dead and three other people wounded. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.
Prosecutors have argued that Stewart was abusive and controlling of his then-wife, Wanda Neal, prompting her to leave him in the weeks before the shootings. 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.
Neal overdosed on medication on July 31 – the day before Stewart's trial began – and was treated at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital until Tuesday night, when she was released, Assistant Moore County District Attorney Peter Strickland said.
Strickland characterized the overdose as a suicide attempt.
Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian demanded to review Neal's medical records before proceeding with her testimony.
"Evidently, the state has known about it for a week, and we’re just finding out about it,” Megerian said. “I don’t think we brought this on."
Neal had her attorney confer with Strickland. She is named as a defendant in a lawsuit against Pinelake by family members of several victims. They claim she alerted the nursing home that Stewart was a threat, but the facility took no action to protect patients.
Superior Court Judge James Webb ordered her to sign a consent form so that Megerian could look at all of her medical records since March 2009. Strickland, Megerian and her attorney were drafting a form for her to sign later this week, meaning she isn't likely to testify before Monday.
Earlier Wednesday, a state medical examiner described in scientific detail the wounds suffered by some of the nursing home shooting victims.
Relatives of the victims wept in court as Dr. Deborah Radisch, North Carolina's chief medical examiner, testified about conducting autopsies the day after the shootings to confirm the cause of death of each victim. Jurors also reviewed autopsy photos.
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 told jurors last week.