Beth Schmitt, who adopted Mr. Stuart in 1999 with her then-partner Lori Elei Stuart, said in an interview this week that he had led a fruitful life despite his limitations. For two decades, she watched him grow.
Mr. Stuart, she said, seemed to love music and would smile when he heard it. He grew a thin mustache that Ms. Schmitt did not like. He went to sporting events and played baseball in a league for children with disabilities; a friend would push his wheelchair around the bases.
The years after Mr. Stuart’s abuse were often difficult, she said, because of recurring medical emergencies like breathing problems and bouts of pneumonia. But Ms. Schmitt said those years were also a gift, because doctors had told her he might not survive his sixth year.
“He was happy despite his challenges, despite the fact that he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk,” she said. “He would communicate to us by facial expressions and the noises he would make. He made people aware that life is very precious.”
Mr. David praised Ms. Schmitt, 44, and Ms. Stuart, 52, both psychologists in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. “They provided the best quality of life he could’ve hoped for under the circumstances,” he said.
Acknowledging the 21-year gap between the abuse and Mr. Stuart’s death, Mr. David said it was still legally possible to bring homicide charges because North Carolina has no statute of limitations on felonies. He added that it was not uncommon for a murder prosecution to follow an assault prosecution when victims die.
The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner did not immediately respond to a request for information about the cause of Mr. Stuart’s death.
In North Carolina, a first-degree murder conviction can result in a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Lawyers for Ms. Noffsinger and Mr. Tripp did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The district attorney’s office said they were being held at the Brunswick County Jail on $1 million bail and are scheduled to appear in Brunswick County Superior Court on June 6.
Ms. Schmitt said that as she adjusted to life without Mr. Stuart, she wanted to focus on “the good memories, not just the abuse.”
“It was a lot of work,” she said of raising him. “But I would do it all over again.”
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