Defense Begins in Pinelake Murder Trial
Robert Kenneth Stewart’s aunt told the jury today that her newphew phoned her two days before he killed eight people at Pinelake nursing home, scared to death he might hurt somebody.
Stewart is on trial for eight first-degree murders and other charges resulting from his March 29, visit to the nursing home where his estranged wife worked. He used a 12 gauge shotgun to shoot, at close range, seven elderly residents and a nurse. The defense claims he was not acting willfully, but under the influence of psychoactive drugs and has no recollection of what he did.
Brenda Norris Moody, one of 14 children including the defendant’s mother, said her nephew was extremely distraught when he asked her to come and get him.
“He wanted me to carry him to the bus station in Fayetteville,” she said. “He said if he didn’t get anybody else, he would call back.”
But he didn’t call, then – he called days later.
“He wanted me to come get him,” she said. “He took this medicine, and he felt funny. He was scared he was going to hurt somebody.”
He finally got there and came to the door.
“He hugged me and said, ‘Brenda, I am so scared I am going to hurt somebody,” she said. “I don’t know what to do! I don’t want to hurt nobody.’ He hugged me real tight, like he wanted some protection or something. He was scared. I got him kinda calmed down. He told me about some medicine he took had an X in it, got scared and said he didn’t want to be by himself.”
She said she didn’t know what to do either, she said, but told him to come in and talk. She offered to take him to the hospital or the doctor. She spoke to the pharmacist about the pills, reading the name from the label. The pharmacist told her it takes a few days for the medicine to work, but she told Stewart to stop taking them. He didn’t stop, she said.
“He said he was fine until he took that medicine, and was scared,” she said. “I could sympathize, because I took some medicine myself.”
Stewart seemed calmer, kind of peaceful in the morning after spending that night in her son’s bedroom. She thought he’d come back to stay Saturday night, too. He didn’t.
“He really should have been in a hospital, the shape he was in,” Moody said. “I told him not to take them. I didn't want him to hurt me or himself. I didn't want him to hurt himself.”
Moody’s testimony followed a morning of defense witnesses that included a statement from Doris Drossert – the first woman Stewart married. By chance, Stewart’s ex-wife had been visiting Moore County from Idaho the week before the shootings. He’d phoned her, and they met for coffee at his house. Later, he took her and her son to visit her sister in Raeford.
This testimony came indirectly from Drossert by way of her signed statement. Health did not permit her to fly in to testify, so by agreement between prosecution and defense, Webb allowed Det. “Kip” Dennis to read from her signed statement and instructed the jury to accept it as testimony.
Stewart told his former wife he was going to Alaska and then Mexico “after he tied up some loose ends.” He asked if he could come for a visit in Idaho, and she said, “No, no, no, no.” They exchanged addresses.
“It really surprised me, because I hadn’t talked to him in over 20 years,” she told Dennis.
Drossert said Stewart said she thought his behavior strange in one way. He seemed in a hurry to get to an evening with his aunt in Siler City, she said – but it was only 2:30 in the afternoon.
Stewart already had the travel case, packed, and in the Jeep Cherokee. It’s the same one later found partially packed on the bed in his house after the shootings. The defense may want to contend the packed bag did not show murder planning, that he’d previously intended to leave.
A minister, Stewart’s uncle, previously testified his nephew phoned him “greatly distraught” to say his wife had left him, and to ask for help “relocating” to the east. Another uncle – since passed away – was living in Moorehead City.
“He was always a good person, would help anybody – do anything for ’em. I don't know what happened,” Ronnie Norris said of his nephew. “He called me, he was crying. He was heartbroken, didn't know what to do. He said his wife ‘packed up everything and left him’ and wanted help relocating to the coast. He was upset and said he didn't know what to do except relocate and maybe start his life over.”
An earlier witness, Bobby Hyman, lived across the road from Stewart and his wife. He told the jury he’d been up early the Sunday morning of the shootings. He’d passed Stewart’s double-wide and noticed cars were there, but no windows open, no lights on. He’d seen the Jeep Cherokee parked there at 7:45 before leaving for church.
Testimony earlier in the trial had Stewart already parked at Pinelake, pacing the parking lot at 8:30 in the morning.
Following the morning break, Megerian and Wells entered Stewart’s completed medical records from Moore Family Care, and told Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb they served a subpoena for the documents. Following that, the records were prepared and delivered directly to the court. They wanted to enter them as evidence without having to put a doctor or nurse practitioner from Moore Family Care on the stand.
Prosecutor Peter Strickland, for the state, objected to the records being introduced other than following testimony from medical providers that they treated Stewart.
Megerian responded that evidence of Stewart’s “longstanding” depression was relevant.
“I think it would be best to have a medical provider testify,” Strickland said.
Moore Family Care is a block away from the courthouse and across the street.
Megerian next offered a computer-generated record from The Prescription Shop in Carthage, also subpoenaed, also accepted.
“The state subpoenaed a set that differed only in that the beginning date was not as far back,” Megerian said. “I don’t think anybody disputes the authenticity of these records. This business is also here in Carthage.”
These records show 29 refills of Ambien, Megerian said. He proposes to show jurors and pass to the jury portions they consider relevant.
When the jury returned, Webb allowed portions to be passed among them for their inspection. The first afternoon witness is an expert from Boone, Megerian said – probably the long-promised toxicologist.
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