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‘The system failed:’ Redmond man found guilty except for insanity in May 2022 murder of Cloverdale woman

Murder suspect Alexander Smith appears from jail for July 2022 court hearing
Deschutes County Circuit Court/File
Murder suspect Alexander Smith appears from jail for July 2022 court hearing

Alexander Smith declines chance to speak; victim's family tells of devastating impact of their loss

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A 23-year-old Redmond man was found guilty of murder except for insanity Thursday in the May 2022 strangulation death of Cloverdale farmer Tina Klein-Lewis, at the close of a rare two-day stipulated-facts trial, and was immediately sentenced to lifetime custody with the state Psychiatric Review Board.

Alexander Mark Smith had been released from the Deschutes County Jail just hours before the killing the night of May 31, 2022 of the 55-year-old woman, who he spotted working in her field across the street from the Cloverdale Fire station. He had gotten a ride to the area and spoke to a firefighter there, who called 911 dispatchers to request a welfare check of the young man.

Smith later told doctors during psychological evaluation that he had been hearing voices, telling him he needed to kill someone, prosecutors said.

Klein Lewis was found with a rope around her neck, and authorities said he had placed her in the bucket of a tractor and was looking for a place to bury or hide her body before he abandoned that effort and fled the scene.

Smith’s stepfather told NewsChannel 21 in the days after the killing how his family had struggled to get him help with his increasing mental problems, and increasingly bizarre behavior. But because he was over 18, Michael Moorman said they could not have him committed for treatment, unless he wanted it or was found in imminent danger of hurting himself or others – and that point was never reached.

So in condensed two-day fashion, the basics of the case, investigation and of Smith's contacts with mental health professionals in the county jail and Stabilization Center were laid out. So were the evaluations by mental health doctors in the months and years.

At the end, after emotional statements by the sister and daughters of Klein-Lewis, Circuit Judge Alison Emerson said it was clearly a “case that has decimated two families.”

“I feel your pain and your hurt,” Emerson said. “The system failed, in a really catastrophic way.”

As for Smith’s family, she said, “I know you tried to do everything that you could,” and in desperation were “forced into a criminal justice system to get help, in a way that failed to materialize.”  

When the time came for Smith’s chance to speak, defense attorney Katherine Griffith talked briefly with her client and said, “He had planned to, but I think we’re going to decline.”

Deputy District Attorney Mathew Nelson explained later that the defense stipulated to many facts, allowing for the two-day trial before a judge, as “there still has to be a finding of guilt, that they did the crimes.”

Nelson said the mental health evaluators supported a finding of guilty except for insanity, finding that while Smith understood what he was doing was a crime, he lacked, as state statutes require, “the ability substantially confirm his conduct to the law.”

Family members have provided the frustrating, tragic details of Smith’s worsening condition and descent into what was later diagnosed as psychosis and schizophrenia.

Thursday afternoon, defense witness Nicole VonLaven of the Deschutes County Behavioral Health Crisis Team said she first met Smith in January of 2022 and found he had “delusional thoughts” and “detachment from reality,” but he declined to take part in voluntary services. Symptoms had worsened by a March contact with the county’s early intervention team.

“His symptoms were indicative of psychosis, for me,” she said, talking of violence such as “taking off his fingers, breaking the bones of the earth.” But she said after his arrest in the killing he “did not meet the criteria for involuntary hospital commitment” – the statute that says one must be an “imminent risk to themselves or others.”

Lezlie Neusteter, a private therapist who worked in the county jail on crisis intervention, also met with Smith after the killing and said that “each specialist observed psychotic behavior. … He seemed detached from reality and the gravity of the circumstances,” believing he’d be released in a day or two. “There were periods of (him) being naked, exercising for long hours, charging at the wall, appearing to be speaking to voices in his head.”

Smith’s condition improved once he was given anti-psychotic medication and was able to have “actual conversations,” showing “dramatic improvement.”

In a closing statement, Deputy DA Brandi Shroyer went through the basics of the events of that fateful night, as Klein-Lewis was murdered while out working in a hop field on her property along Cloverdale Road, then went onto a property along Jordan Road without permission.

Shroyer noted some differences among doctors at the “level of psychosis he was experiencing,” as mental health systems were not noted when he left jail, but later interviews showed that “when he left the jail, he knew that he had to kill, that he had heard some sort of message given to him or heard a voice about that.”

After getting rides to Tumalo and then to Cloverdale, Shroyer noted that no one he interacted with called 911 or law enforcement.

Defense lawyer Griffith took issue with how the prosecutor had portrayed his mental status. “Four mental health providers all unanimously agree, Mr. Smith was experiencing acute psychosis at the time” of the slaying, she said.

Despite becoming withdrawn and hallucinating, he had no prior criminal convictions. And she said he didn’t get transported to the hospital for evaluation “because he had an explanation for his violent thoughts.”

Shroyer in her rebuttal did not deny the defendant's mental issues but said, “Every person with mental illness does not kill someone.”

Emerson soon made her ruling: “I do find that he did lack the ability to have substantial capacity to confirm his conduct to the law, so he is found guilty except for insanity on each of these offenses.”

Four close family members told the courtroom tearfully of the past two heart-rending two years.

“We have forever been changed by his selfish and vicious act on that day,” said Tracy Klein, Tina’s older sister. “It is my most fervent desire that he gets the help he needs, but also suffers the consequences of his actions.”

“The system let down two families,” said the victim's other sister, Trish Klein. While Smith’s family can “have hope that in time they will get their son back in treatment, Tina’s not coming back to us,” to see her daughters get married or her first grandchild. She said she hopes Smith can never be released, as they believe he cannot “go off his medication, fall down that hole again, and not have families devastated."

Cassidy Lewis, 23, emotionally told how “my mom was my best friend. I called her every single day.” And that it was so painful that her mom missed her graduation from OSU last spring – the same school Smith attended, before his descent. “I wake up to nightmares weekly, of being murdered," she said.

“I was in the same room as him,” she said. “I was in the same bar as him. I wish I could have stopped that.”

Jessica Lewis played a voicemail from her mom in court.

“Hey kiddo – nice T-shirt, love it! Call me back if you are around. If not, call me tomorrow, whatever. Checking up to see how the party was.”

Lewis said she was grateful amid all the pain that she still has the voicemails, because “they say the first thing you forget about someone is their voice.” And she said she has one from her birthday, that “I can listen to every year.”

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.


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