Judge Denies Defense Motions in Stewart Trial
The Pinelake murders moved a step closer to trial Wednesday with denial of two defense motions, one of which would have taken Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger off the case.
Jury selection is to begin in July in Albemarle for Robert Kenneth Stewart, with trial in Carthage to follow. A grand jury indicted him 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. Stewart faces eight counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and other charges. The state is seeking the death penalty.
Defense attorneys Jonathan Megerian and Franklin Wells, of Asheboro, asked the court to remove the DA because – when in private practice in 2004 – she served as defense attorney for the defendant’s mother. Megerian argued Krueger had access to confidential information and should be barred from prosecuting the case.
Wednesday morning Krueger told Superior Court Judge William R. Pittman that she had no independent recollection of facts from that case and had deliberately not checked her files. In any case, all that was privileged attorney/client matter and only her client could waive that privilege unless the court revoked it.
Pittman said the district attorney seemed well aware of her duty under the standards of professional conduct and the privilege to her client.
“It doesn’t seem to the court that the defendant has any legal or constitutional standing in this matter,” the judge said. “The motion is denied.”
A second defense motion asked the court to bar the state’s previously ordered psychiatric examination of Stewart to determine his mental state at the time of the killings. In October Senior Superior Court Judge James M. Webb allowed a motion by Krueger to have Stewart evaluated as to his mental condition at the time of the alleged offense.
As Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh was set to close, mental health experts there wanted to begin any evaluation of Stewart after their move to the Central Regional Hospital in Butner. At the time 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.
This new motion sought to stop that evaluation because 3,000 pages of discovery material Stewart’s lawyers wanted to keep from their client had been given to him. After his arrest he’d claimed not to have any memory of the nursing home shootings, and Megerian said his mental health evaluation would be “polluted” by what he could have learned from this material.
Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland told the court a mix-up resulted in that banker's box of documents – originally intended for use by evaluating mental health professionals – instead being handed over to Stewart at Central Prison. He submitted a letter from Dr. Nicole Wolf of the state mental hospital to the effect that Stewart’s memory or lack thereof would affect only a very small portion of her evaluation.
“All right, it is apparent to the court that Dr. Wolf is in the best position to make any determination,” the judge said. “You can cross-examine her if she is called to testify. I don’t find any violation. It appears to the court to be inadvertent. I will not disturb Judge Webb’s order. Denied.”
Exceptions to the judge’s ruling by the defense were noted for the record. Strickland said he would personally hand-deliver the documents directly to Amy Taylor at Central Regional for used by evaluators.
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.
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