On March 29th, 2009, Robert Kenneth Stewart carried three firearms into the Pine Lake Rehabilitation Center in Carthage (N.C.) intent on either ending, or ruining his wife’s life. His wife was an employee there. In his quest toward that end he shot at helpless elderly residents. Stewart shot 11 people in all, eight fatally. The dead were 98-year-old Louise DeKler, 75-year-old Tessie Garner, 88-year-old Jesse Musser, 89-year-old Margaret Johnson, 78-year-old John Goldston, 78-year-old Bessie Hedrick, 89-year-old Lillian Dunn and 39-year-old Jerry Avant. Avant was an employee at the facility.
As you may recall the victim list would have been much longer if not for the immediate and courageous response of Justin Garner of the Carthage Police Department. Garner a lone responder entered the facility and located the shooter. Garner challenged the suspect to drop his gun and when Stewart responded by turning his shotgun on the officer, Garner disabled the suspect with one shot. Justin was wounded also, hit by pellets in the leg and foot.
On Saturday, September 3rd, the first day of the extended holiday weekend just ended — and after a month-long trial — Robert Kenneth Stewart awaited the verdict of the jury.
Attorneys Did What Attorneys Do
The jury listened to a defense team that threw everything against the wall hoping something would stick, trying to save the life of the heartless killer they were representing. They argued that Stewart had a “diminished capacity” to form intent, because he was a sad case who suffered from depression and was taking prescription anti-depressants. The defendant’s mind was further addled because he had reportedly taken the sleep aid Ambien in a higher-than-recommended dose which had turned him into a “lethal sleep-walker.”
Therefore, according to the defense team, their client could not form the intent required to prove the capitol offense of first degree murder on any of the killings.
But wait there’s more. The defendant has been diagnosed as having a borderline personality disorder.
The Jury Returns a Verdict
Throughout the trial there was hardly a man, nor woman in the court room, who was not moved to tears by the testimony describing the unmatched brutality of Stewart’s acts and the tragedy endured by the family of the victims. Jill Degarmo was a nursing home employee and survivor, who had held the hand of her fiancée and fellow employee Jerry Avant. They prayed together as he lay dying from the wounds senselessly inflicted on him by Stewart.
Jill Degarmo sat through the trial and made the following observation.
“Every person who has been in this courtroom has either shed a tear or showed that this affected them somehow. The only person I've not seen show any emotion or caring is Robert Stewart.”
Stewart once again showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Stewart, 47, will not face the death penalty because jurors bought the diminished capacity defense. They did not find him guilty of first degree murder, but instead opted to convict him of second-degree murder.
Moore County Superior Court Judge no longer able to consider the death penalty, sentenced Stewart immediately to between 141 and 177 years in prison.
A New Defense?
Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland said after the verdict that he would have preferred a conviction on first-degree murder charges. To the families of the victims he added, “I apologize to the families for not being able to get the convictions we were hoping to get. The jury evidently felt there was something to his defense.”
Since the jury rendered a verdict of second-degree murder in this case they have ushered in a brand new defense into the American Jurisprudence system. That would be the “Ambien-Induced-Lethal-Sleep-Walker Defense,” which renders one incapable of forming the premeditation and deliberation necessary for a first-degree murder conviction.
Before attempting this defense to keep your client from the firing squad, lethal injection, the gallows, the chair, or the gas chamber you should be advised to use caution. First, you may have to take Ambien during the trial just to keep a straight face while arguing such a ridiculous premise. Second, you almost certainly will have to take Ambien after the trial in order to sleep nights, when you succeed in rescuing such a cur as this from the jaws of justice. Most importantly the jury you are arguing the case in front of needs to be in the throes of an Ambien-induced “diminished capacity” in order to fall for a song and dance like this outrage in Carthage.