Crime

Grand jury indicts husband in ‘cough medicine’ slaying of his wife

911 call: “I think I killed my ...”

Murder suspect Matthew James Phelps says he took too much cold medicine, then woke to find his wife dead.
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Murder suspect Matthew James Phelps says he took too much cold medicine, then woke to find his wife dead.

Matthew James Phelps told a 911 dispatcher earlier this month that he took too much cold medicine, then awoke to to find his wife’s bloodied body on the bedroom floor of their northwest Raleigh townhouse.

But a grand jury was presented with evidence this week that suggests the death of Phelps’ 29-year-old wife, Lauren Hugelmaier Phelps, was an act of premeditated murder, according to an indictment filed Monday at the Wake County Clerk of Superior Courts Office.

The jurors found enough probable cause to determine that Phelps, a Bible college graduate, “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously did of malice aforethought kill and murder” his wife, with whom he had been married less than a year, according to the one-page indictment.

Phelps, 29, has been in custody at the Wake County jail since Sept. 1, when police charged him with first-degree murder. It was just after 1:10 a.m. when Phelps phoned an emergency operator and said he took too much Coricidin Cough & Cold medicine, then went to sleep. He recalled having a dream, then waking up to see his wife’s body and a knife on the bed, according to a 911 recording made public after the slaying by the Raleigh Police Department.

Murder suspect Matthew James Phelps says he took too much cold medicine, then woke to find his wife dead.

Christopher Loder, a spokesman with the Bayer Corp., which manufactures Coricidin, issued a statement after Phelps was charged that said there is no evidence to suggest the medication is associated with violent behavior.

But a clinical professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, pointed to Dextromethorphan or DXM – a cough suppressant that’s found in Coricidin and other cold medications such as Robitussin and NyQuil. She said DXM can induce closed-eye hallucinations, out-of-body experiences and even temporary psychosis.

One man called The News & Observer to share his own experience 30 years ago when he said he nearly choked his wife to death after taking the cold and flu medication NyQuil at bedtime.

IMG_Lauren_Hugelmaier_9_1_69CA14AF_L339695557
Lauren Hugelmaier Phelps, who was found dead in her bedroom in Raleigh on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. Her husband Matthew Phelps made a 911 call early that morning in which he said he took too much cold medicine, then woke up to find his wife dead. Courtesy of Valerie Hoy

Phelps’ attorney, Joseph Blount Cheshire V of Raleigh, said earlier this month that Coricidin’s side effects would be a “subject of inquiry” during the course of his client’s trial.

During Phelps’ nearly six-and-a-half-minute 911 call, he told the dispatcher about having a dream, turning on the bedroom lights and finding his wife’s body on the floor.

“There’s blood all over me, and there’s a bloody knife on the bed. I think I did it,” Phelps told the dispatcher.

“I took more medicine than I should have. I took Coricidin Cough and Cold because I know it can make you feel good and sometimes I can’t sleep at night.”

Phelps then said, “Oh my God. Oh God. She didn’t deserve this. Why?”

Phelps remains in custody at the Wake County jail without benefit of bail, a jail spokesman said Thursday.

Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald

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