Aspiring Pastor's Wife Had 123 Knife Wounds When He Claimed He Woke to Find Her Dead on the Floor
An autopsy report released by the coroner on Tuesday says that Lauren Hugelmaier Phelps suffered extensive slash and stab wounds
A North Carolina woman had been slashed and stabbed 123 times when her newlywed husband claimed he awoke last month — after taking too much cold medicine the night before — to find her dead body, according to an autopsy report released on Tuesday morning.
Matthew James Phelps, a 27-year-old aspiring pastor, called authorities early on Sept. 1 to report the discovery of his wife’s body in their two-bedroom townhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I had a dream, and then I turn on the lights and she’s dead on the floor,” he told the dispatcher in the 911 call obtained by PEOPLE. “I have blood all over me, and there’s a bloody knife on the bed, and I think I did it.”
“I took more medicine than I should have,” he continued, growing progressively more distraught. “I took Coricidin Cough and 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.” He was soon arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
The subsequent autopsy report shows that Lauren Hugelmaier Phelps, 29, was found in the fetal position on the bedroom floor of the home she shared with Matthew, her husband of less than a year. She was covered in blood.
The report enumerates the extensive injuries Lauren sustained. Police previously said that “preliminary findings have established that the crime was not a random act.”
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According to the coroner, Lauren had 24 stab wounds and 20 cuts to her neck and head and 13 stab wounds and 11 cuts to her torso.
She had several defensive wounds, as well: There were 35 cuts and three stab wounds to her left arm, and 16 cuts and one stab wound on her right arm.
Search warrants turned up an empty box of Coricidin HBP Cold and Cough at the couple’s home. Other items taken from the residence included a knife block, bed sheets, receipts, credit cards and computers.
Matthew has pleaded not guilty. Under state law, he faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.
It remains unclear how much Coricidin — if any — might have been in his body at the time he allegedly murdered Lauren or whether he will try to use his self-proclaimed overdose as a defense.
After his first court appearance, Matthew’s defense attorney, Joseph Cheshire, urged the public not to rush to conclusions.
“It’s a very tragic situation — sad and tragic. 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,” he said. “There’s a lot to this story I believe that will be told in the future.”
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“I know this is difficult for people to understand, but he [Matthew] is going through a terrible trauma,” Cheshire continued. “And 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.”
Neither prosecutors or defense attorneys immediately returned PEOPLE’s call for comment on Tuesday.
A spokesman for Bayer, the drug manufacturer that produces Coricidin, has said “there is no evidence to suggest” the drug “associated with violent behavior.”
“Patient safety is our top priority, and we continually monitor adverse events regarding all of our products,” the company said in a statement.