Funeral Services Begin, Investigation Intensifies
The first services for Sunday's victims began Wednesday afternoon with a funeral for Tessie Garner at Smyrna United Methodist Church. TV trucks and on-air reporters parked across the road as friends and family gathered to say farewell.
The church is off Howards Mill Road above Robbins. Further east, above Carthage and Glendon and just below the county line, Wanda Stewart's bullet-riddled blue Chrysler PT Cruiser sat in her mother's yard.
On Monday, Police Chief Chris McKenzie stood before a room filled with world and national press at the William C. Walton Municipal building in Carthage. As he filled in details of what is known the Sunday morning shootings that left 8 dead and three injured, that same PT Cruiser rested a few doors away behind yellow crime-scene tape. Robert Stewart was, at that same time, before Judge Jayrene Maness hearing the charges against him during a brief initial appearance on his way to safekeeping at Raleigh's Central Prison.
Now the full-geared processes of investigation and criminal procedures are cranking into motion. Stewart has two court-appointed lawyers. One, Frank Wells, went to the prison to meet his client for the first time.
Search warrants, affidavits filed to support them, and the results of searches had been placed under seal on a motion by Assistant District Attorney Warren McSweeney. Wells came to Carthage with a motion requesting the seal be lifted for the defendant. That motion was granted, but the material remained barred to the public. As for why the defense would want to keep this under seal, Wells said, "We don't, really."
Their motion simply recognized the fact that a judge had listed the best interests of the defendant as only one of a number of reasons for the seal order.
"The original order indicated the search warrant was sealed to begin with," Wells said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I wanted to take a look at them to see if it was necessary that they be sealed to protect my client. I don't have a dog in that fight; the judge indicated that anybody could come in and have a motion that they be unsealed and he would entertain that motion. I am certainly not going to object to it."
Stewart appears to be getting appropriate medical care at the prison hospital. His lawyer has one of the same questions on his mind as many in Carthage: why.
"We are just at the very beginning of what I am certain will be a very involved process trying to understand exactly what happened, whatever happened," Wells said. "And why. Why it happened."
The Moore County Grand Jury goes into session April 13, the same day presently scheduled for Stewart to appear in court. His lawyer doesn't think that hearing will take place. Wells is pretty sure his client will be indicted.
"The Grand Jury meets that day, and I would be surprised if there was a probably cause hearing, a preliminary hearing," he said. "I would be shocked if they don't proceed to the Grand Jury."
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