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Woman in poison seed case sentenced to 15 years in prison Apr 20, 2005 heraldtribune.com
BRADENTON -- Screaming and bleeding, Michael Skoyec lay strapped to a hospital bed unable to communicate as he hallucinated about a zebra hovering in the room.
Doctors were clueless. A drug test turned up negative for the cocaine and mushrooms that his fiancee, Carolyn Stewart, claimed he was using.
A former elementary school guidance counselor, Stewart was arrested, charged and, earlier this year, convicted of poisoning her longtime lover with toxic Angel's Trumpet seeds she'd bought on eBay, the Internet auction site.
Judge Edward Nicholas on Tuesday grappled with how much prison time to give Stewart, whom friends and family described as an intelligent, caring mother. He settled on 15 years, half of the maximum she could have received.
"I don't routinely understand why people commit the crimes that they do, and this case is no exception," Nicholas told a courtroom brimming with friends and family of the former couple. "It's almost like there are two Carolyn Stewarts."
The judge typically reserves the maximum for the "worst of the worst."
"I do not believe that is you," he said to a pale-faced Stewart, wearing a brown and purple outfit.
She dabbed at tears throughout the two-hour hearing.
Reading from prepared notes, Stewart, 38, said she was sorry. She said she had suffered great embarrassment and shame.
"No one who knows me would ever expect to find me in this situation," she said through tears.
Her mother cried.
Defense attorney Matt Whyte had asked for house arrest and probation.
That didn't sit well with Skoyec and his supporters.
"I truly believe she is capable of doing this again," Skoyec, 48, said in court. "She would have killed me. I am surprised she didn't."
Prosecutor Angel Colonneso described Stewart as cold and calculating, a manipulative woman bent on Skoyec's elimination.
Skoyec, Colonneso said, had learned of Stewart's relationship with another man.
Over a couple of days in August last year, Stewart went shopping online for poisonous plant seeds. She found an Angel's Trumpet packet on eBay.
She soaked the seeds in water and added the solution to her fiance's beer. Skoyec was taken to a hospital Aug. 31 with stroke-like symptoms.
He remained there several days and friends and family came to his side.
Manatee County sheriff's investigators said Stewart later made incriminating statements during a recorded telephone call to Skoyec.
In the days after Skoyec's hospitalization, Stewart called the Pennsylvania man she'd been courting, prosecutors said.
Angel's trumpet poisoning can cause blurred vision, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, convulsions and possibly a coma or death, according to the National Institutes of Health Medline.
Death, however, is unlikely.
Authorities had charged Stewart with attempted murder, but a jury found her not guilty on the charge in February. She was still convicted of poisoning.
Skoyec told authorities his girlfriend had tried to harm him once before. He said he was in a hot tub when she jolted him with a stun gun.
Stewart said it was for muscle relaxation.
"Electricity and water don't mix. She knows that," Colonneso said Tuesday.
From 1998 until October 2003, Stewart worked at Sea Breeze Elementary as a guidance counselor. She also worked part-time for the Sheriff's Office as a civilian employee for Child Protective Services.
She had been free on bail since her conviction in February.
Nicholas, the judge, said the 15-year prison term -- followed by five years of probation -- offers Stewart "some glimmer" of a shot at rehabilitation.
Her defense team vowed to appeal.
"We are extremely disappointed in the outcome of not only the case but also the sentencing," said defense attorney Whyte, "but we respect the court's difficult decision."
Bailiffs led Stewart away in handcuffs and shackles.
Outside the courtroom, Skoyec said he didn't remember much from his hospital stay.
Stewart was forbidden contact with the man she'd lived with for nine years.