Defendant in Beaverton Stabbing Spree, Long Deemed Too Mentally Ill, Will Now Face Trial

Prosecutors allege errors and delays by Oregon State Hospital. Earlier this month, a judge agreed.

Progress Lake in Beaverton. (Kushal Bose/Shutterstock)

A man accused of killing a 72-year-old woman and critically injuring her daughter during a 2019 robbery of a Wells Fargo Bank in Beaverton is now competent to face trial, a judge ruled Feb. 2, overruling evaluators at Oregon State Hospital who say he’s still too mentally ill to assist in his own defense.

Salvador Martinez-Romero, 23, allegedly stabbed two more people while attempting to flee the bank. He was caught with money falling out of his underpants, barking at police dogs, according to court testimony. A judge says there’s evidence he was on meth.

Martinez-Romero was diagnosed with schizophrenia and ruled too mentally ill to defend himself in court. He has spent the past three years in Oregon State Hospital, the state’s locked psychiatric hospital.

The case, first reported by KATU-TV, is significant because it highlights growing tensions between administrators of the overflowing state hospital, which has begun letting patients out up to two years early, and county officials, who are dealing with the consequences.

In this case, Martinez-Romero was not let out early—he’s been at the hospital three years, the maximum allowed by state statute and two years longer than the hospital’s new policy.

But prosecutors are accusing the hospital of failing to properly evaluate Martinez-Romero or restore him to sanity. Instead, the alleged murderer, a man who now claims to follow orders from witches, was dropped back on Washington County’s doorstep after staff at the state hospital say his delusions leave him unfit to stand trial.

By refusing to clear him, hospital evaluators left prosecutors unable to try him. So prosecutors challenged their conclusions.

It’s not unusual for them to do so. It’s happened three or four times in the past year, says Washington County deputy district attorney John Gerhard.

But this case is unique, he tells WW. “It was unusual for us to learn that the defendant had made so many statements that he was gaming the system,” he says.

Prosecutors generally just review evaluation reports and don’t subpoena the medical records, Gerhard says. As a result, he adds, “we don’t know how frequently stuff like this happens.”

The Washington County DA’s Office is now making a significant allegation: The “systemic problem” of overwork at the beleaguered hospital may have led the evaluator to overlook crucial records—and miss clear signs that Martinez-Romero was malingering.

Prosecutors have alleged two major failings by hospital staff. First, in a legal motion filed last October, they accused the hospital of failing to adhere to the evaluator’s recommended treatment.

After Martinez-Romero complained about side effects, his medications were changed, according to testimony by Dr. Ericia Leeper, a certified forensic evaluator and supervising psychologist at the state hospital. “Maximum doses were not achieved,” according to notes from Martinez-Romero’s medical record read during court testimony.

Among the side effects were visible tremors and self-reported panic attacks, Leeper testified.

Psychiatrists tried a half-dozen medications. Once, he refused to take a powerful antipsychotic drug, Saphris, because he didn’t like its taste.

The family of the 72-year-old murder victim, Janet Risch, “felt that valuable time was being wasted,” prosecutor Gerhard wrote in an email to Leeper.

After Washington County prosecutors subpoenaed thousands of pages of Martinez-Romero’s medical records, they added another, more stunning, allegation.

They said they had evidence the hospital evaluator failed to recognize that Martinez-Romero was no longer sick at all—and was instead feigning symptoms in an effort to run out the three-year clock before his charges were dropped.

After hearing a “Herculean” 10 hours of testimony, mostly a contentious cross-examination of Leeper in which prosecutors accused the veteran evaluator of following her ego and not the evidence, the judge sided with prosecutors.

“[Leeper’s] opinions primarily derive from [Martinez-Romero’s] self-reports, at the exclusion of all other indicators, most notably indications of feigning symptoms and overall malingering,” Judge Ricardo Menchaca wrote Feb. 1.

Martinez-Romero is now back in Washington County Jail and awaiting a long-delayed trial. His attorney, Cameron Taylor, declined to comment to WW on the open case.

Washington County DA Kevin Barton says he feels vindicated by the judge’s conclusion, but disturbed by what he learned.

His office will be “very cautious moving forward when we hear things from the hospital,” he says. “It feels as though they’ve lost their way.”

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