A key witness was unable to testify last week at the trial of the man who shot ten people in a North Carolina nursing home. The witness is the defendant’s ex-wife, whom many believe was his primary target. She was hospitalized last week after attempting suicide the day before the murder trial began.
The judge in the case ruled this week that defense counsel and prosecutors may review the woman’s medical records prior to her testimony. Defense counsel argued that the jury should hear about her suicide attempt and the subsequent commitment to a psychiatric facility, and especially the anti-psychotic medications she has been taking.
The medical records, defense counsel said, go to the witness’s credibility. Defense counsel added that the medications may render the woman incompetent to testify.
Whether the records are mentioned in court depends entirely on whether the witness or prosecutors bring up the subject during her testimony. The rules of evidence say that a lawyer can only cover information given during direct testimony in cross-examination. If the subject doesn’t come up, defense counsel cannot introduce it.
The woman consented to the release of the records as long as records from treatment over the past two years were included. Her decision was complicated by her involvement in a civil lawsuit related to the shootings. She and the nursing home are the defendants in a suit brought by families of several victims.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case this week. The case should go to the jury toward the end of next week.
The Pilot (Southern Pines), “Stewart’s Ex-Wife Testifying This Morning,” Jonh Chappell, Aug. 16, 2011
The Fayette Observer, “Robert Stewart trial: Defendant’s ex-wife expected to testify today,” Michael Zennie, Aug. 16, 2011