'Hate Mail' Directed at Accused Gunman
A Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered the Carthage Police Department to stop destroying "hate mail" directed to the suspect charged with killing eight people at Pinelake nursing home in March.
Robert Kenneth Stewart appeared in Moore County Superior Court for an administrative session. Stewart's attorney Jonathan Megerian said that "countless" people have written letters to the police department expressing their opinion of Stewart and asked that they be forwarded to him.
Megerian added that such evidence is "extremely valuable" to both the venue location and jury selection for the trial.
Superior Court Judge James Webb allowed the motion, which also orders the police department to reconstruct as best possible the letters that were thrown away.
Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie wrote a letter acknowleding that he destroyed the letters after receiving them.
"Obviously it's not the chief of police's job to determine what is of evidentiary value or not," Megerian said.
Megerian hinted that a request for a change in venue for the trial could come down the road. The capital murder trial is scheduled for next January.
Stewart was indicted on eight counts of first-degree murder and other charges in connection with the shooting deaths of seven elderly patients and a nurse at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carthage on March 29.
Stewart was brought to Moore County from Central Prison in Raleigh and was expected to be transported back after the hearing. Stewart sat emotionless during the hearing, dressed in orange-and-white jail stripes.
Before leaving the courthouse, Webb ordered that he be subjected to a cheek swab to be used for DNA analysis at the request of Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger.
Family members of the victims sat on the right side of the courtroom, while members of Stewart's family sat across the aisle from them.
The incident brought national media attention to Carthage, and interest in the case has been high.
The Carthage police officer who faced a shotgun-wielding Stewart and arrested him after a gunfight in the nursing home hallway, has received many honors. Sgt. Justin Garner was the only officer on duty that Sunday morning and went into the facility without backup that Sunday morning. Garner shot Stewart, but not before the suspect fired his gun. Several pellets struck Garner in the foot and leg.
Garner and his wife, Stephanie, will travel to Oklahoma next week to accept a national award for valor.
Investigators have not indicated what the motive was in the shooting. But Stewart's estranged wife, Wanda, worked at the nursing home and was there that morning. She has said she believed he went there to shoot her.
Stewart's case was one of several capital murder cases listed on the administrative court calendar Thursday.
Administrative sessions are intended to allow defense attorneys and prosecutors "a place in line" for any motions that might need to be heard ahead of trial.
Justin Raynal Cotton, 19, and Martin Devon McMillan, 20, who are charged with first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery were also listed on the calendar.
They are charged with killing Donald Ray Sands, 43, of Aberdeen. Moore County Sheriff's deputies found him shot to death in his car about 10:31 p.m. May 15, 2008. The deputies discovered his body in a car near a white mobile home in an area at the end of Gillespie Street, a sandy road, in Addor after receiving a call about a vehicle accident.
At a Rule 24 hearing in July, Webb found evidence in the case sufficient for Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger to proceed with a capital trial.
Pretrial motions are to be heard by the court in January, but their cases are nonetheless likely to be calendared for "admin" session until then as well.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Writer John Chappell contributed to this story.
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