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Appeals court upholds man’s conviction for murdering wife 

Leo Rubenstahl shot Enelrae Rubenstahl 10 times in their home near Linden 


Leo George Rubenstahl will stay in prison for the rest of his life for shooting to death his wife, Enelrae Rubenstahl, in their home north of Fayetteville in February 2021, the N.C. Court of Appeals said on Tuesday.

The appeals court upheld Rubenstahl’s first-degree murder conviction from his trial in September 2022. The conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Rubenstahl is 60.

The ruling says there was evidence that Enelrae Rubenstahl feared her husband would kill her.

It says she told a friend, “I sleep scared.”

Back in February 2021, her fears proved justified when Leo Rubenstahl emptied his six-shooter revolver into her, reloaded, and shot her four more times, the ruling says.

The Rubenstahls had lived in a house on the 9500 block of Ramsey Street between Fayetteville and Linden.

According to the Court of Appeals ruling:

  • Enelrae Rubenstahl told family and friends she was afraid Leo was going to shoot her. She did not like that he kept his gun on the nightstand by their bed at night.
  • Three weeks before she was killed, Enelrae’s church pastor and deacon “noticed bruises on both sides of her neck consistent with strangulation, and she admitted that Defendant had ‘been holding her head down.’”
  • “Defendant allegedly once shot holes into his above-ground pool; while recounting what happened, he looked into Enelrae’s eyes and said, ‘I should have shot you.’”

The ruling says Leo Rubenstahl shot Enelrae in the night, with bullets striking her chest, arms, and face, including both her eyes, and that she had no wounds indicating she fought back or tried to defend herself.

A medical examiner testified that it probably took Enelrae Rubenstahl several minutes to die. She was 59.

The gun her husband used to kill her was a single action revolver, the ruling says, meaning Leo Rubenstahl had to cock the gun for each shot.

The steps required to fire each bullet plus the effort needed to reload his revolver one bullet at a time, was “a cumbersome process,” and it “required a great deal of effort,” the ruling says. That effort suggests premeditation and deliberation, it says.

After he shot his wife, the ruling says, Leo Rubenstahl called his daughter about 1 a.m. and confessed, the ruling says.

At his trial, though, he testified that Enelrae’s niece was the real killer.

On appeal, Rubenstahl’s attorneys said the jury should have been given the option of a second-degree murder conviction, and the jury should have been instructed that it could have considered Rubenstahl’s intoxication level as it weighed his guilt.

Second-degree murder is a homicide committed without specific intention or deliberation. First-degree murder is murder committed with intention and deliberation.

The Court of Appeals said there was sufficient evidence of intention and deliberation that the judge, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons, was not required to provide the jury with the option to convict Rubenstahl of second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder.

As to intoxication, Rubenstahl estimated he consumed 10 or 11 beers in the 12 hours before he shot his wife, the ruling says, and he testified he “got drunk” after killing her.

“Though Defendant may have been intoxicated from drinking a number of beers throughout the course of the afternoon, evening, and night, the evidence does not show that he was ‘so completely intoxicated and overthrown as to render him utterly incapable of forming a deliberate and premeditated purpose to kill,’” the ruling says, citing a 1987 court ruling on the topic.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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murder, court, appeals, cumberland, linden