The neighbor of the North Carolina aspiring pastor accused of fatally stabbing his wife overnight before calling 911 and saying he took too much cold medicine tells PEOPLE he’s shocked at the allegations.
“They seemed like a pretty tight couple. I couldn’t tell you that there was anything out of the ordinary,” Robert Drayton, the neighbor of Matthew Phelps and Lauren Hugelmaier, who lived in the adjacent townhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, tells PEOPLE.
“They were just a young couple starting out. They just got married. I would never have thought this would happen,” Drayton adds.
Drayton lived on the opposite side of a common wall from the couple, but he didn’t hear anything early Friday morning when the fatal stabbing allegedly occurred. He says he was woken up by the sound of his dog barking, after which he saw police cars outside his door.
“That night and the morning after, I didn’t hear anything,” he says. “The only way I knew something was going on is my dog kept barking and I got up and saw the cop cars.”
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Drayton says he’s “shocked” at the turn of events. “I guess you never know what’s happening with your neighbors,” he says.
He adds, “I had just saw [Phelps] that same evening and everything seemed fine. He looked happy. Then once the cops came to question me, that’s how I found out. And it was such a huge shock.”
He describes the couple as “super cool neighbors,” adding that he didn’t socialize with them but just exchanged pleasantries.
“[Phelps] seemed pretty laid back. But you never know,” Drayton says. “It was nothing out of the ordinary that I noticed about either one of them. … They were nice and courteous.”
Phelps’ 911 Call: ‘I Think I Did It’
Phelps was taken into custody last Friday and charged with first-degree murder after calling 911 early on Friday to report that he had woken up to find his wife, Lauren Hugelmaier Phelps, dead on the floor next to him.
“I had a dream, and then I turned on the lights and she’s dead on the floor,” Phelps said in the 911 call around 1 a.m. Friday, audio of which was obtained by PEOPLE.
He continued, “I have blood all over me and there’s a bloody knife on the bed and I think I did it. I can’t believe this.”
Police arrived at the couple’s home on Patuxent Drive in Raleigh to find Hugelmaier suffering multiple fatal stab wounds, authorities have told PEOPLE.
Over the course of the approximately six-and-a-half minute conversation with a dispatcher, Phelps grew progressively more inconsolable, breaking down into sobs. He also said that he had taken too much cold medicine before he went to sleep the night before.
“I took more medicine than I should have,” he said, adding, “I took Coricidin Cough & Cold because I know it can make you feel good. A lot of times I can’t sleep at night. So I took some.”
He added: “Oh my God. She didn’t deserve this.”
Phelps has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge against him, his defense attorney, Joseph Cheshire, tells PEOPLE.
Phelps remains held without bail in Raleigh, Cheshire says. Under state law, Phelps could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.
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Hugelmaier was a Sunday school teacher and Matthew was studying to be a pastor, a friend told ABC News. Matthew’s social media presence shows that he studied missions and evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College.
The Phelps married last year, according to Hugelmaier’s Facebook. She “was all about her family,” relatives said in a statement obtained by ABC News. They requested to PEOPLE that she be referred to by her maiden name.
“Her four nephews were her whole world,” the family’s statement continued. “Church was a priority for her. Lauren volunteered and loved the children and youth ministry. She enjoyed fashion and loved finding great deals at Target.
“Lauren loved her dog, Cooper, like he was her child. She was a very special person to everyone who knew her. The family requests privacy as they cope with this unbearable tragedy.”
Cold Medicine Claim Will Be Relevant in Court: Experts
Both medical and legal experts say Phelps’ cold claim that he took too much cold medicine may be relevant in his prosecution.
A forensic toxicologist told PEOPLE that the cold medicine could cause hallucinations in high concentrations; and an outside defense attorney said claims about being under the influence of the drug could successfully be used at trial.
In the wake of the killing, Bayer, the maker of Coricidin, said in a statement that “patient safety is our top priority and we continually monitor adverse events regarding all of our products.”
“Bayer extends our deepest sympathies to this family,” the statement read. “… There is no evidence to suggest that Coricidin is associated with violent behavior.”