Family of Cloverdale woman’s killer, mental health expert who treated him say tragedy was preventable
They say law needs to change, to get them the help they need before an awful outcome
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The case of a Redmond man found guilty of murder “except for insanity” in the May 2022 killing of a Cloverdale woman puts yet another sad spotlight on the challenges of mental illness.
The family of Alexander Smith spoke of frustrating months spent trying to get him the help he needed, while a mental health expert who treated him in jail called it a sadly preventable tragedy.
Smith had been released from the Deschutes County Jail just hours before he strangled Tina Klein-Lewis, 55, as she was out working in her hop field across the street from the Cloverdale fire station, where he’d gone to seek food.
Smith was sentenced Thursday at the close of a two-day “stipulated facts” trial to lifetime custody of the state Psychiatric Review Board.
During psychiatric evaluations, Smith said powerful voices were telling him he had to kill someone.
In the previous months, Smith’s parents saw his declining, disturbing mental state and tried to get help. But they were told Smith didn’t meet the criteria for intervention and involuntary commitment to a facility – and he was unwilling to seek treatment on his own.
“We tried for months to get Alex help,” Smith’s stepfather, Michael Moorman, said Friday. “We were told by the mental health (agencies) that, ‘Just keep calling the police. Eventually they’ll be able to take him in.’ Redmond Police were involved so many times. And they told us that they could not take him in for a psych hold.”
Despite his erratic behavior, later described as psychosis and schizophrenia, Smith had not expressed a specific plan to harm someone, as state statute requires for an adult’s involuntary commitment.
Moorman had detailed the family’s efforts to NewsChannel 21 when we spoke days after his stepson’s arrest.
A social worker who works as a behavioral health specialist at the jail and who treated Smith after he was arrested in the killing says the system failed.
“(The) county mental health system, the jails, police, they can see someone who could potentially be threatening,” said Lezlie Neusteter. “But unless that person acknowledges that they have violent thoughts, that they have a plan, an imminent plan to kill someone, their hands are tied.”
The morning of the murder, Smith had been released from the county jail, where he’d been held on unrelated theft and trespassing charges.
“He was in jail. They couldn’t hold him,” said Neusteter, who testified as a defense witness at Thursday’s sentencing and who also has formed an organization called “See the Signs” that says mass shootings are “absolutely preventable” if community members learn the warning signs, learn what to report, and intervene early.
“Our current laws don’t allow the system to commit someone involuntarily unless they pose an immediate threat. And that is what needs to change.”
After being on an anti-psychotic medication for a few weeks, she said, Smith was a different person. She said Smith had been suffering from paranoid psychosis at the time of the murder, but the medication he later received treated the condition.
“I have worked with people with schizophrenia who are absolutely terrifying — threatening to kill me, kill my children,” she said. “Two weeks later, after being on an anti-psychotic injectable, which is new — it’s practically miraculous. Kind gentle, intelligent, funny people.”