Stewart, in Handcuffs, Shows Arms to the Jury
Audible gasps and groans punctuated the court when attorneys for Robert Kenneth Stewart proposed removing his restraints so he could show his arms to the jury. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb told the lawyers that it wasn’t going to happen.
He set final arguments for Thursday morning, after which the jury will be released to return Friday for instructions from the court and to begin deliberations. If need be, the jury will continue deliberating Saturday and on Labor Day if they have not reached a unanimous verdict.
In considering the unusual defense request to let Stewart show his arms to the jury, Webb pointed out the curious construction of lawyers tables in the courtroom. They are built with front barriers full to the floor. That was done to conceal strong eye-bolts at the defense table used to secure defendant’s leg shackles to the floor.
“These were constructed several years ago for the trial of Jeffery Heatwole,” Webb said. “He was convicted of two murders and given two death sentences.”
The judge proposed allowing jurors to leave the box and view Stewart’s arms while he simply stood in place, legs still restrained. Instead, defense counsel waived any objection to the jury seeing their client in leg shackles and handcuffs.
Stewart could be put to death if convicted by this jury on any of eight indictments for first-degree murder. He used a shotgun to kill a nurse and seven elderly residents in a Carthage nursing home on Mar. 29, 2009. Stewart’s lawyers conceded he did the killings, but are basing his defense on his alleged automatic actions while under the effects of a number of drugs including the sleep aid Ambien.
A forensic psychiatrist called by the state testified Monday that Stewart would have been fully able to know what he was doing, to form intent and deliberate that Sunday morning while racking, shooting, reloading, and continuing to load and reload, rack and fire that shotgun.
Dr. Nicole Wolfe’s expert opinion directly contradicted that of a forensic psychiatrist called by the defense, Dr. George Corvin. He called treatment given by a nurse practitioner two days before the shootings “malpractice.” Wolfe said it was perfectly normal, just what any other practitioner or doctor would have done under the circumstances.
Corvin said his expert medical opinion was that Ambien in Stewart’s system meant he acted like a puppet, unaware of what he was doing when he killed. Wolfe said just the opposite, that he was fully responsible and any amnesia came as a defense mechanism after the killings and as a response.
Marks on his arms show he was a self-mutilator, Corvin showed. With the court’s permission, Stewart – handcuffed and shackled – clinked over in front of the jury box with his coat off and sleeves rolled to his elbows.
Corvin called jurors’ attention to lightened parallel marks on the back of both harms, scars he said came from Stewart cutting himself. He said Stewart originally claimed they came from hunting, but later said he’d sometimes pass out from drinking and wake to find his knife open nearby.
During the time Stewart was unhooked from the protective eye-bolt, he was surrounded by bailiffs on all sides keeping an eye on him. Before he was allowed to come out from behind the defense table, bailiffs removed his shotgun and rifle and bags of ammunition from the evidence table he’d have to pass.
Then, Stewart clanked over to stand in front of the jury, and the psychiatrist pointed out faint scars on the back of both arms. Those visible scars appear as roughly parallel marks lighter in tone than other parts of his arms. Deputies surrounded him, clearly on alert.
“In my opinion, he didn't get these in the woods,” Corvin said
- “He did them himself, in my opinion. It is certainly consistent with chronic self-laceration.”
Stewart was returned and again secured at the table, and Corvin resumed his testimony following a mid-morning break. He said Wolfe – even by her own criteria – seriously misdiagnosed Stewart. The defendant clearly meets the criteria for borderline personality disorder even by Wolfe’s testimony, he said.
It refers to an individual who is on “the borderline” of becoming psychotic, Corvin testified.
“The same sorts of things we see in them, we see in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorders,” he said.
Corvin reaffirmed his earlier testimony, continues to say “my friend” Nicole Wolfe was wrong and in error scientifically.
“My opinion is my opinion,” he said. “If you like it, fine; if you don't, that's fine, too.”
Strickland asked Corvin if it was his standard practice, as a psychiatrist, to put the basis of his opinions in his reports.
“The report – should it not be self-sufficient?” Strickland asked.
Corvin said it wouldn’t necessarily include every word said to him.
“It pays dividends to remember what the purpose of the report is,” Corvin said. “It is sometimes not desired in a court setting for one reason or another – not the same thing as allowing an individual to testify through me.”
Quoting from another in a report can be an issue, raising questions of hearsay as has happened in this trial, he said.
“When you heard Ms. Reives say she did not have any concerns he would hurt himself or others – you heard her say that, is that correct?” Strickland said. “Her perspective would be a different prospective than yours?”
Corvin said what he does is offer his expert perspective. Income-wise, testifying in court is less than half his income.
His opinion differs from Dr. Wolfe, he agreed. It also differs from those of other doctors he said had less information.
“So when Dr. Rollins and Dr. Larson and Dr. Wolfe all reach their conclusions, you just don’t think they did their job?”
“Dr. Wolfe I do disagree with,” he said. “The scope of her effort was far greater than Dr. Rollins or Dr. Larson had.”
On redirect, Megerian returns to Ambien. Peak concentration of that drug occurs during the first half hour, is it not, he asked. What would a single dose have to be for there to be 31 ng/ml still present some 20 hours later – assuming Stewart took that dose the night before, he asked.
“That would be a massive overdose,” Corvin said. “I don't think that happened.”
If Ambien were retained as Wolfe testified, the medicine would never have remained on the market, Corvin said. People might take it and sleep for a week.
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