Eric Paul Brunner, a 39-year-old Wake County man charged with the second-degree murder and felony abuse of his elderly mother, ambled into a Wake County courtroom on Wednesday afternoon wearing red-and-white-striped prison garb.
The red color indicated that he is in protective custody at the Wake County jail, where he is being held under a $1 million bail.
Wake County District Judge Ned Mangum told Brunner that he could spend more than 32 years in prison if he is convicted of murdering 74-year-old Cynthia Brunner, who was found dead at the house they shared near Cary.
Deputies who arrested Brunner on Tuesday also charged him with felony abuse of a disabled or elderly person causing serious injury. He could spend five years in prison if convicted of that offense, Mangum said.
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The bespectacled and bald Brunner was handcuffed and flanked by two deputies during the hearing.
Brunner's lawyers, Mary Jude Darrow and Anne Hayes, said he is entering a plea of not guilty. Darrow said she was not sure whether he was being held in solitary confinement or under suicide watch.
Investigators have not yet described the circumstances under which Cynthia Brunner died. However, investigators said in an arrest warrant they swore out Tuesday that the son was his mother's caretaker, but that "with malice," he failed "to provide medical care and hygienic care" for her for seven days, from Feb. 13 and Feb. 19.
Wake County EMS workers found Cynthia Brunner dead at the house at 6801 Marksman Way on Feb. 19 after Brunner called 911, the sheriff's office said.
Brunner remained silent during his first court appearance, except to answer "yes sir" when Mangum asked him whether he intended to hire his own attorney.
Before deputies led Brunner out of the courtroom, Darrow asked Mangum to order that her client continue to receive medical treatment from the sheriff's office while in custody.
Sheriff Donnie Harrison declined Wednesday to discuss specifics of Cynthia Brunner's death, saying investigators had not yet closed the case. He said investigators had conferred with the Wake County District Attorney's Office and prosecutors "felt like we had enough [evidence] to make the murder charge."
Authorities sent Cynthia Brunner's body to the State Medical Examiner for an autopsy. Those results have not yet been made public.