A North Carolina man who told a 911 operator that he took cold medicine and woke up to find his wife fatally stabbed appeared in court Tuesday.
Phelps’s attorney Joseph Cheshire did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he spoke with local media after the Tuesday hearing. He asked that people reserve their judgment until more about the case becomes clear.
“We’re just at the beginning of understanding what is happening here,” Cheshire said.
“It’s a very tragic situation, sad and tragic,” he added. “There’s a lot to this story I believe that will be told in the future.”
If convicted, Phelps could face the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole, according to the judge. His next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 25.
In a disturbing 6½-minute call, made just after 1 a.m. Friday, Phelps appears to confess to killing his wife, Raleigh police said.
“I think I killed my [wife] …” a man’s low voice says on the phone.
The 911 operator asks him to elaborate: “What — what do you mean by that? What happened?”
“I had a dream and then I turned on the lights and she’s dead on the floor,” the man says. “Um, I have blood all over me and there’s a bloody knife on the bed and I think I did it.”
Phelps also said he took cough medicine before he went to bed, according to the call audio published by the Raleigh News & Observer.
“I took more medicine than I should have,” Phelps says. “I took Coricidin … because I know it can make you feel good. So a lot of times I can’t sleep at night, so I took some. … She’s not moving. Oh, my God.”
The dispatcher repeatedly asks Phelps to check to see if his wife is breathing. Phelps tells him she is not, and that he’s scared to get too close to her.
“There’s all this blood,” he says. “She didn’t deserve this.”
When police arrived at the home in northeast Raleigh, they discovered his wife with multiple stab wounds. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead, a police spokeswoman told the News & Observer.
The couple’s Facebook pages indicated that they shared a love for Star Wars and had just gotten married in November. Online albums for both of the Phelpses were filled with photos of the two of them together: at their fall wedding, posing with light sabers, holding a dog and goofing off for the camera.
Matthew Phelps worked at a lawn service company and had studied missions and evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Ky., according to the News & Observer. He was studying to be a pastor while Lauren Phelps was a Sunday school teacher, ABC News reported.
Coricidin is marketed as a line of cold and cough medicine for people with high blood pressure. Bayer, the pharmaceuticals company that makes Coricidin, told ABC News in a statement that it extended its “deepest sympathies” to the family.
“Patient safety is our top priority, and we continually monitor adverse events regarding all of our products,” Bayer told the network. “There is no evidence to suggest that Coricidin is associated with violent behavior.”
Cheshire offered condolences to the victim’s family while also saying that Phelps is grappling with the death.
“I know this is difficult for people to understand, but he is going through a terrible trauma,” Cheshire said. “You know there are all kinds of stages to these things and he’s at the beginning of those stages. So there’s a lot of trauma to go around in all of this, in all of these cases, always.”
Meanwhile, a YouCaring fundraising page and a Facebook memorial page were set up for Lauren Phelps.
“My heart sank yesterday when I heard the passing of Lauren. I am in disbelief,” one friend wrote Saturday on her Facebook remembrance page. “She was one of the purest souls one could ever meet. Her kind heart and sweet nature are an extremely rare find. She was a great friend to anyone lucky enough to call her one.”
A memorial service for Lauren Phelps was held Monday in Wake Forest, N.C., according to a post on her Facebook page.