A North Carolina man whom authorities suspect murdered his wife last week — and who alerted them to the killing himself, in a distraught 911 call — has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge against him, his defense attorney tells PEOPLE.
In a statement, Matthew Phelps’ lawyer, Joseph Cheshire, said his client has been deeply saddened by the slaying. Under state law, Phelps could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.
Cheshire also vowed that there would be more information to come about what happened, echoing comments he made following Phelps’ court appearance on Tuesday. (Prosecutors have not returned multiple messages seeking comment.)
“Matthew’s family and all of us at my firm really send our deep condolences to the family of the young lady who died and to her family. It’s a very tragic situation, sad and tragic for both families,” Cheshire said. “And at the same time, we have to ask everybody to withhold judgement in this particular case until we know more and we’re able to develop more. There’s a lot to this story, I believe, that will be told in the future.”
“But,” Cheshire continued, “I don’t want anything I say to diminish the sadness and sorrow that everyone feels for the death of this lovely young lady.”
Phelps remains held without bail in Raleigh, North Carolina, according to his attorney.
He was taken into custody 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.
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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.
“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.
“While the investigation of the case is currently underway, preliminary findings have established that the crime was not a random act,” police previously said in a statement.
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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.”
Cheshire’s statement to PEOPLE did not comment about the cold medicine Phelps mentioned in his call, though both medical and legal experts say it 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.”
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.”
• With reporting by CHRIS HARRIS