State News

Carthage nursing home massacre trial goes to jury

Posted September 2, 2011 12:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2011 6:46 p.m. EDT

— A jury began deliberating Friday in the trial of a man accused of shooting and killing eight people at a Carthage nursing home two years ago.

Robert Stewart, 47, is charged with gunning down seven patients and a nurse in the March 29, 2009, shootings at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Jurors deliberated for about 5½ hours before recessing for the night. Deliberations will resume Saturday morning.

Superior Court Judge James Webb spent nearly three hours Friday morning instructing jurors on the law regarding the various charges against Stewart.

Jurors could reach any of three possible verdicts on the charges related to each of the shooting victims.

To convict Stewart of first-degree murder, the jury must determine that he was in control of his behavior at the nursing home and planned to kill the victims.

If jurors determine that Stewart didn't intend to kill anyone during the rampage, they could find him guilty of second-degree murder. Convictions on that charge wouldn't carry a possible death sentence.

The jury also could find Stewart not guilty by reason of unconsciousness or insanity.

Defense attorney Jonathan Megerian argued during the month-long trial that Stewart was taking various prescription medicines at the time of the shootings and had overdosed on the sleep aid Ambien the previous night. The combination of drugs in his system left him in a hypnotic state where he was unable to control his actions, Megerian said.

Webb told the jury that the defense must only prove to their satisfaction – not beyond a reasonable doubt – that Stewart was temporarily insane at the time of the shootings to acquit him.

Prosecutors, Webb said, have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Stewart was in control of his actions at the nursing home.

They have argued that Stewart was on a vengeful mission to track down his then-wife, Wanda Neal, who worked at the nursing home, because she had left him two weeks earlier.

During their deliberations, jurors asked to review Stewart's medical records and to see if there were any warning labels on the anti-depressants he was taking at the time of the shootings.

If Stewart is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Webb said, he would be admitted to a state psychiatric  hospital and have a first review after 50 days. He would be released if doctors determine he is no longer a danger to himself or others.