Defense: Stewart doesn’t remember nursing home shooting — (WRAL)

SSRI Ed note: Nurse prescribes man, 46, Lexapro, Xanax, Ambien. 2 days later he shoots 11 nursing home residents in a zombie-like state, 8 die. He gets life.

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Posted August 1, 2011

— The man accused of killing eight people and wounding three others during a shooting rampage at a Carthage nursing home two years ago was under the influence of the sleep-aid Ambien and other drugs and was unaware of his actions, a defense attorney said Monday.

Attorney Jonathan Megerian said during opening statements that Robert Kenneth Stewart was deeply depressed and attempted to see a doctor two days before the March 29, 2009, shooting at the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center. The doctor wasn’t there, but Stewart saw a nurse who prescribed Lexapro and Xanax, two anti-depressants that did not sit well with him. 

The night of March 27, 2009, Stewart went to his aunt’s house because he feared he was going to hurt someone, Megerian said. The day before the shooting, Stewart was feeling better but became agitated that night because of the anti-depressants he was taking.

Megerian said Stewart then took an extreme amount of Ambien, a drug that he had been taking for two years. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Ambien can put the user in a hypnotic state and cause people to “do an activity that you are not aware that you’re doing,” Megerian said. Tests run on Stewart’s blood following the shooting showed he had 12 times the therapeutic dose of Ambien in his system, Megerian said.

Megerian said Stewart’s problems with the anti-depressants prompted him to overdose on Ambien.

“Without Friday, March 27, we would not have had Sunday, March 29,” Megerian said.

Stewart admitted in open court earlier this month that he killed seven patients and a nurse at the center. Megerian said Stewart doesn’t recall what happened the day of the shooting and can’t be held legally responsible for his actions.

“Robert Stewart does not remember what happened on March 29, 2009, and he has never been able to tell anyone about it,” Megerian said.

Moore County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Bartholomew said Stewart entered Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center that day “with a specific reason” – to chase down his estranged wife, Wanda Stewart, who worked there. She said Robert Stewart had called his Wanda Stewart’s parents repeatedly prior to the shooting but got no answer.

“This was not a random act,” Bartholomew said. “When Wanda wouldn’t go to the defendant, the defendant went to her.”

Bartholomew said Stewart brought four guns and a bag of ammunition with the intent of creating mass casualties.

“He didn’t stop after he shot up his wife’s car. Instead, he entered the facility and reloaded after every three shots,” Bartholomew said.

Michael Cotton, who was going to visit his great aunt, testified Monday that he was shot while driving in the center’s parking lot. He said the gunshot wound to his left shoulder burned.

After being shot, Cotton said he went inside to warn residents.  Cotton hid in a bathroom and called 911 as he heard more shooting.

“I didn’t know how bad I was hit, so I just decided to go in and try to alert the people,” Cotton said. “When I told them there was a man with a gun coming in, they kind of looked at me like, ‘This guy’s crazy.'”

Michael Gillis and his family were inside visiting his grandmother when they heard gunfire. Gillis testified Monday that he told his family to hide in the bathroom and his oldest son to guard the door while he went into the hallway. He saw his grandmother’s nurse, Jerry Avant Jr., 39, on the floor bleeding.

Gillis said he asked Avant what he could do to help, to which Avant replied, “Nothing. I’m going to die.”

“I said to Jerry, ‘No, you’re not. We’re not going to let that happen,'” Gillis said.

As the rampage continued, Gillis said, his family could hear a man shot in the room next door, “whimpering as he took his last breath.”

Carthage police officer Justin Garner ended the massacre when he shot Robert Stewart in the chest. Garner was wounded in the rampage.

In addition to Avant, patients Louise De Kler, 98, Tessie Garner, 75, Lillian Dunn, 89, Jesse Musser, 88, Bessie Hedrick, 78, John Goldston, 78, and Margaret Johnson, 89, also died in the attacks.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The final juror was seated last week after 750 people were summoned for jury selection in nearby Stanly County. The process took three weeks, and jurors were chosen in Stanly County because of extensive pre-trial publicity in the case.

The trial, which will be held in Moore County, is expected to last four to six weeks. Jurors will be bused in each day


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Nursing home shooter spared death penalty — (ABC 11)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Robert Stewart killed eight people and wounded three more in 2009. (WTVD Photo)

CARTHAGE, NC (WTVD) — Jurors in the Robert Stewart murder trial reached a verdict Saturday. He was found guilty of eight counts of second-degree murder in a shooting rampage at a North Carolina nursing home in 2009.

The verdict means Stewart is spared the death penalty.

Stewart had admitted to shooting 11 people, killing eight of them, at the Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage. But In trying to spare his life, Stewart’s defense lawyers said the 47-year-old was essentially sleepwalking at the time due to taking a combination of prescription drugs.

Prosecutors spent 13 days presenting witness testimony and physical evidence to make a case for a first-degree murder conviction.

Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Bartholomew said Stewart knew what he was doing and was on a rampage looking for his estranged wife, who worked at the nursing home.

She said the shooting started in the parking lot when Stewart shot up his wife’s car and he paraded through the nursing home, reloading every three shots as he fired at the elderly patients at point-blank range.

Residents Tessie Garner, 75; Lillian Dunn, 89; Jesse Musser, 88; Bessie Hedrick, 78; John Goldston, 78; Margaret Johnson, 89; Louise DeKler, 98; and nurse Jerry Avant, 39 – all died in the gunfire.

Defense attorney Jon Megerian said Ambien and other drugs in Stewart’s system caused him to be in a zombie-like state of mind when he entered the nursing home.

Megerian said Stewart was depressed because his wife, Wanda Neal, had recently left him and he thought he was going to die from prostate cancer.

Jurors deliberated for two days. While they also found Stewart guilty of other assorted assault charges, they found him not guilty of attempted first-degree murder for shooting Carthage police officer Justin Garner.

Garner stopped Stewart’s rampage by shooting him in the chest. Garner was wounded in the leg by a blast from Stewart’s shotgun.

The trial moved into the sentencing phase Saturday afternoon. Moore County Superior Court Judge James Webb heard from family members of the victims.

“That man killed my mom like she was a roach,” said Linda Feola, whose mother, 98-year-old Louise DeKler, died in the attack.

In pleading Stewart’s case, his defense said he was full of remorse, but couldn’t remember anything.

Judge Webb sentenced Stewart to 189-236 months on each murder count for a total of 126-157 years in prison – essentially life in prison without possibility of parole.

Stewart also received another 16-22 years on the other charges.

The defense gave notice it intends to appeal.