19 crimes tied to mental health patients
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State officials last week opened an investigation into the latest case of an Allegheny County mental health patient connected to a violent crime.
The state Department of Public Welfare doesn't comment on the details of such investigations, but the newest one coincides with the death of 39-year-old Dawn McGuire, whose decomposing body was found Thursday in the Shadyside apartment of David Wayne Alexander.
Police have charged Mr. Alexander, 40, with homicide. He told police that he strangled Ms. McGuire, according to a criminal complaint. The pair had lived together for several months.
Mr. Alexander, who has used a wheelchair since a car accident in North Carolina a decade ago, has a history of mental illness. Last year, he signed a court-ordered plan that compelled him to seek outpatient treatment at Mercy Behavioral Health.
Ms. McGuire's death is one of at least 19 serious incidents -- which the state calls "sentinel events" -- in Allegheny County since August of last year involving people with mental health problems.
The most prominent one centers on Andrea Curry-Demus, a Wilkinsburg woman who has been charged with killing a pregnant teenager and stealing her baby.
Very few violent crimes are connected to people with mental illnesses, but this year's high-profile cases have prompted state and local officials to take a closer look at how services are provided to people who live in the community -- at a time when Mayview State Hospital is nearing closure and more patients with criminal records are being treated in unlocked facilities.
After the arrest of Ms. Curry-Demus this summer, the state temporarily halted referrals to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, where she had been seeking court-ordered treatment.
Mr. Alexander has rotated in and out of the Allegheny County Jail at least four times since 2005, on charges ranging from retail theft to disorderly conduct.
In September 2006, according to court records, he was charged with aggravated assault when an acquaintance told police Mr. Alexander stabbed him in the hand with a Swiss army knife during a dispute over money.
The charge was later dropped when the accuser failed to show up for several court dates.
Last year, Mr. Alexander pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property when police found him in a stolen Buick with a screwdriver.
He received a sentence of six to 12 months, although the judge permitted him to serve his time in a halfway house.
Within a month of his sentencing, Mr. Alexander was arrested for stealing $331 of merchandise -- including three Troy Polamalu jerseys -- from Wal-Mart at the Waterworks Mall.
He again pleaded guilty, and he received a new sentence of one year of probation.
He also received a treatment plan with Allegheny County's Justice Related Services office, which included a requirement that he seek group and individual therapy and counseling for drug and alcohol abuse.
County officials don't discuss individual cases, but they currently are overseeing about 450 service plans, according to Amy McNicholas Kroll, director of Justice Related Services.
Mr. Alexander's probation officer, Omar Smith, visited his Elmer Street apartment on Thursday. At first, Mr. Alexander wouldn't let Mr. Smith enter, telling him Ms. McGuire was undressed, according to a criminal complaint.
Mr. Alexander then admitted that Ms. McGuire was dead. Her body was on the couch.
Mr. Alexander later told homicide detectives that Ms. McGuire had "snapped" and started yelling and throwing things at him, the complaint said.
He told police he punched Ms. McGuire, knocking her onto the couch. She tried to sit up, and he then choked her to death. He said he couldn't remember the exact date.
Mr. Alexander said he stayed with the body until his probation officer came to the apartment.
Mr. Alexander was being held in the county jail. He faces a preliminary hearing on Friday.
First Published October 29, 2008 12:00 am