Aspiring Pastor Accused of Murdering Wife Appears in Court: 'There's a Lot to This Story,' Defense Says
A North Carolina man accused of murdering his wife last weekend made his first court appearance on Tuesday
A North Carolina man accused of murdering his wife last week made his first court appearance on Tuesday, after which his attorney reportedly vowed there would be “a lot” more to be revealed about what happened.
Matthew Phelps appeared in front of a Wake County, North Carolina, judge on a first-degree murder charge in the death of his wife, Lauren, a courthouse official tells PEOPLE.
Phelps stayed silent during the hearing, at which a not-guilty plea was entered, according to his attorney. Under state law, Phelps face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.
Outside the courtroom, his lawyer, 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,” Cheshire said, according to local TV station WRAL. “There’s a lot to this story I believe that will be told in the future,”
“I know this is difficult for people to understand, but he [Phelps] is going through a terrible trauma,” Cheshire told reporters. “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.”
Cheshire could not be reached for comment by PEOPLE. Prosecutors did not immediately return a call.
“We’re asking everyone to be patient so we can all get to the bottom of this,” Cheshire said after the hearing on Tuesday, according to the News & Observer.
Early Friday morning, a distraught Phelps called 911 in Raleigh, North Carolina, declaring that he had just woken up to find his wife dead on the floor of their home.
“I had a dream, and then I turned on the lights and she’s dead on the floor,” Phelps said in the call, 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.”
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 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.”
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Police arrived at the couple’s home on Patuxent Drive in Raleigh to find Lauren Phelps suffering multiple stab wounds, authorities have told PEOPLE. She was taken to a local hospital where she later died.
“While the investigation of the case is currently underway, preliminary findings have established that the crime was not a random act,” police said in a statement.
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 Lauren’s Facebook. She “was all about her family,” relatives said in a statement obtained by ABC News.
“Her four nephews were her whole world. 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.”
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Lauren was a Sunday school teacher and Matthew was studying to be a pastor, a friend told ABC. Matthew’s social media presence shows that he studied missions and evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College.
Matthew is being held without bond in the county jail and will next appear in court on Sept. 25, ABC News reports.
A YouCaring fundraising page has been set up for Lauren’s family.
• With CHAR ADAMS