A North Carolina paramedic has been accused of using over-the-counter eye drops to kill his wife so he could collect $250,000 in life insurance money following her death.
Joshua Lee Hunsucker, 35, of Mount Holly, is charged with first-degree murder in the September 2018 death of 32-year-old Stacy Robinson Hunsucker, according to the North Carolina Department of Insurance. Joshua Hunsucker was arrested Dec. 19.
His bail was set at $1.5 million during a bond hearing the following day, the Shelby Star reported.
Jordan Green, a Department of Insurance prosecutor, said in court Dec. 20 that investigators had ruled out suicide or any other potential suspects in Stacy Hunsucker’s killing.
"We believe, based on the interrogation of the defendant that occurred yesterday, that we have probable cause that he is the one who poisoned Mrs. Hunsucker with Visine or a similar product and caused her death," Jordan said during the bail hearing.
The prosecutor said “quite a bit” of the state’s information in the case came from Joshua Hunsucker himself during that police interview.
"I don't know that he would characterize it as a confession but it certainly approached that level, your Honor," Green told District Judge James Jackson.
High school sweethearts
Joshua and Stacy Hunsucker, who were described by WSOC in Charlotte as high school sweethearts, were married for eight years before her death and had two young daughters together. According to her obituary, she previously worked as a paralegal and as a preschool teacher.
"(Stacy) loved crafting, going to the beach, watching sports and taking pictures of her daughters and herself," the obituary reads.
Stacy Hunsucker's father, John Robinson, responded publicly on social media to his son-in-law's arrest by posting a photo of his daughter and granddaughters digging a huge hole on a sandy beach. All three were smiling broadly.
Her brother, Eric Robinson, wrote two days after the arrest that he would no longer be responding to any messages other than those from close family.
"Thank you for your cares and concern," Eric Robinson wrote. "We all love Stacy and miss her very much."
In April, on the birthday of one of Stacy’s young daughters, her mother wrote an anguished post about what her own daughter was missing.
"Oh, my sweet, funny, lovable, smiling Stacy -- you are missing so many milestones," Suzie Robinson wrote. "It makes me so sad you are not here to celebrate your 'pumpkin's' birthday. I gave both of your girls an extra hug especially for you today."
Department of Insurance officials said in a news release that the criminal investigation into Stacy Hunsucker's sudden death began in May following an allegation against Joshua Hunsucker regarding life insurance fraud, which court documents say was made by Robinson, his mother-in-law. The state agency's Criminal Investigations Division teamed with the Gaston County Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security to launch a probe.
Court records obtained by the Star and ABC News indicate that Joshua Hunsucker told authorities he found his wife slumped over Sept. 23, 2018, at their home. She was blue and was not breathing, he said.
Credit: Gaston County Jail
Credit: Gaston County Jail
ABC News reported that Joshua Hunsucker gave at least four separate versions of his actions prior to finding his wife unresponsive. At the scene, he told police he had gone outside to ensure their cars were locked due to a spate of recent auto burglaries in the neighborhood.
According to the affidavit, he told one friend he had gone for a walk to “burn some energy” but told a different friend he had gone outside to cut some wood.
Joshua Hunsucker told his mother-in-law, however, that he was sitting at the kitchen table working on his laptop, with his back to his wife, and that he found her slumped over the side of the couch when he turned around, the document says.
Stacy Hunsucker was taken to a hospital, where she later died. Her cause of death was initially unclear, but a January 2015 GoFundMe page in her name, which has since been removed, stated that she had experienced medical issues since the birth of the couple’s first daughter in February 2013.
Stacy Hunsucker ended up in the ICU for low heart rate and blood pressure in November 2014, after the birth of their second daughter, and later suffered another health crisis that led to cardiac arrest, ABC News reported.
She ultimately required the implantation of a pacemaker in February 2015.
A startling discovery
The affidavit in Joshua Hunsucker's criminal case says that he refused to allow an autopsy on his wife, telling authorities he did not want her "to be cut up." This was despite her status as an organ donor, ABC News reported.
He had Stacy Hunsucker’s body cremated instead, the network reported.
Green said Dec. 20 that a third-party agency, identified in court documents as Lifeshare Donor Center, had obtained a blood sample from Stacy Hunsucker before her body was cremated, since she was registered with them as a potential organ donor.
Investigators had the stored blood sample tested and made a startling discovery.
The tests found high levels of tetrahydrozoline, the active ingredient in eye drops like Visine, court records show. According to the affidavit, the amount found in Stacy Hunsucker's blood was 30 to 40 times higher than the therapeutic amount.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that tetrahydrozoline, classified as a decongestant and vasoconstrictor, constricts blood vessels to "get the red out" of a person's eyes.
The drops are meant solely for topical use. Ingestion can lead to blood toxicity.
"When consumed orally, tetrahydrozoline passes quickly through the gastrointestinal tract, rapidly reaching the blood and the central nervous system," the academy's website says. "Symptoms of an overdose of tetrahydrozoline include drowsiness, slow breathing or absence of breathing, slow heartbeat, hypothermia and possibly even coma."
In court, Green addressed the potentially deadly effects of ingesting the substance.
"We're told by our toxicologist and our cardiologist that medicine has a dramatic effect on your heart and would cause heart stoppage or heart failure in a fairly short amount of time, which is consistent with what happened here," Green said.
Watch prosecutor Jordan Green speak in court below, courtesy of the Gaston Gazette.
The affidavit against Joshua Hunsucker pointed to his medical background and potential access to the drug found in his wife’s blood.
"Josh Hunsucker is a flight paramedic for Medcenter Air, for which his training and experience would certainly provide a thorough understanding of various types of medication and how those medications could react in the body," the affidavit states, according to ABC News. "Additionally, his employment provides access to non-controlled substances which do not require logging or inventory control."
A copycat crime?
The Star pointed out that, about two weeks before Stacy Hunsucker died, a nurse about 20 miles south of Mount Holly in South Carolina was accused of a very similar crime, one that garnered extensive headlines, both locally and nationally.
According to the Rock Hill Herald, Lana Sue Clayton, 52, was arrested Aug. 31, 2018, and charged with murder in the July 21, 2018, poisoning death of her husband, Steven Clayton. The Washington Post reported last year that authorities initially believed Steven Clayton, 64, died in a fall down the stairs of their Lake Wylie, S.C., home, which was modeled after George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.
Arrest warrants obtained by the Herald indicate Lana Clayton, a nurse at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Charlotte, confessed to sneaking eye drops into her husband's water over a three-day span until he died. The newspaper reported that toxic levels of tetrahydrozoline were found in Steven Clayton's system during an autopsy.
Lana Clayton attempted suicide the day before her arrest in the case, the Herald reported. Her criminal case appears to still be pending.
Credit: York County Sheriff's Office
Credit: York County Sheriff's Office
Court documents in the Hunsucker case indicate Robinson, Stacy Hunsucker’s mother, expressed concern after Joshua Hunsucker, who was the beneficiary on two life insurance policies in his wife’s name, received a total payout of $250,000 following her death. Robinson’s concern stemmed from allegations that Joshua Hunsucker was seeing another woman while Stacy Hunsucker was still alive.
The affidavit in the case states he publicly had a new girlfriend within six months of his wife's funeral.
That memorial service was arranged and paid for by Stacy Hunsucker's parents -- not by her husband, ABC News reported.
The affidavit states that investigators spoke to Joshua Hunsucker's friends and co-workers, who were also stunned at the speed with which he began dating again, the Star reported.
Fellow paramedics at Atrium Health's MedCenter Air, where Hunsucker had been a lead paramedic since 2013, also described the widower as appearing unfazed by Stacy Hunsucker's death.
Joshua Hunsucker's defense attorney, David Teddy, argued that his client deserved reasonable bail and was not a flight risk due to a "strong family tie to the community," the newspaper reported. His mother and father, along with other supporters, were on hand Friday in court.
Teddy also argued that a high bond would drain his client financially, while being jailed would keep him from working to support his two daughters, now ages 5 and 6.
Green pointed out, however, that Joshua Hunsucker has been on administrative leave from MedCenter Air for weeks due to alleged misconduct at work, the Star reported. Details of that alleged misconduct were not immediately available.
The prosecutor also pointed to the $250,000 in life insurance proceeds the defendant received following his wife’s death.
"(The defendant) has less holding him here than what was presented," Green argued, according to the Star.
Jackson told prosecutors and the defense that if Joshua Hunsucker posted the $1.5 million bail, he would be fitted with a GPS tracker, the Star reported.
Gaston County Jail records show Hunsucker was released on Christmas Eve.
‘Not a day goes by’
The Star reported that Joshua Hunsucker wrote on his Facebook page in September, on the anniversary of his wife's death, about how much he and their daughters missed her.
"One year ago our lives changed forever," Hunsucker wrote, according to the paper. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of her, her encouragement, her smile, how awesome of a mother she was.
“So much changes when you lose the love of your life and when a child loses their mommy at a young age. Friends, family, relationships, work; some good and some bad. Some you understand and some you don’t. We choose to live happily because that’s what she would want.”
A former colleague of Joshua Hunsucker’s, Kailyn McDonald, posted about the case on Facebook, writing that she was shocked by the allegations against her former boss.
"He always talked like he had a great loss, he said he got a tattoo of her in her memory," McDonald wrote. "He said he missed her, even told his daughters, 'Your mommy is with the angels.'
“He never told nobody that he was the one that put her there. I hope this man gets what he deserves.”
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