Stewart Trial Set for July
The jury for the trial for the man accused in the Pinelake nursing home murders will come from Stanly County.
Once jurors are chosen in Albemarle in July, Robert Kenneth Stewart’s trial will be conducted in Carthage. He faces eight counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and other charges. District Attorney Maureen Krueger is seeking the death penalty.
A grand jury indicted Stewart on numerous charges stemming from the March 29, 2009, shooting deaths of seven elderly nursing home residents and a male nurse who tried to protect them.
Investigators believe Stewart went to the nursing home that Sunday morning looking for his estranged wife.
In Superior Court Monday morning, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb ordered jury selection moved to Stanly County “for the limited purpose of jury selection” and set a date for the start of trial.
Those proceedings in Albemarle are expected to take three or four weeks, then the trial comes back to Carthage.
“Jury selection shall commence on July 11, 2011,” Webb said. “This court shall retain jurisdiction to effectuate orders necessary to accomplish jury selection.”
Upon completion of jury selection in Albemarle, the case is to return for the trial itself to Moore County, where Stewart is being held in jail.
Webb retained jurisdiction to Moore County Superior Court for all pre-trial and post-trial proceedings.
Webb entered his order in open court as a supplement to his previous Oct. 14 ruling denying a defense motion to move the trial itself. At that time, he ordered jury selection alone take place in another county without specifying which one it would be.
The defendant “failed to show that there exists in Moore County so great a prejudice against the defendant that he cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial,” Webb said in his ruling. “Due to pretrial publicity in Moore County, the venue for the limited purpose of jury selection should be transferred to another county.”
Setting a date for Stewart’s trial has faced a number of obstacles, not the least of which was a motion by his court-appointed attorneys to move the trial out of Moore County. Other obstacles included Stewart’s attorneys being scheduled for other murder trials set for early 2011.
Webb has been frustrated by the time it was taking to set a date for trial.
Defense attorneys Jonathan Megerian and Franklin Wells, of Asheboro, have an older capital case in Randolph County.
“This is illustrative of this court’s major concern of delay, delay, delay in setting that case for trial,” Webb said during the October hearing.
He allowed a motion by Krueger to have Stewart evaluated as to his mental condition at the time of the alleged offense.
Dix Hospital in Raleigh is set to close, and prosecutor Peter Strickland said mental health experts there want to do any evaluations of Stewart after their move to Butner.
Wells said he thought the defense would have its own examinations completed by Jan. 15. That would tie in with the earliest time for state experts to do their 90-day examinations at the new site, prosecutors said at that October hearing.
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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