Attorney Wanted "Anarchy" Actor to Stay in Treatment Program

Sentenced to year in jail, Lewis served about half of that; his rampage in Los Feliz came five days after his release

By Patrick Healy
|  Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012  |  Updated 4:32 PM PDT
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"Sons" Actor Dies in Fight That Also Leaves Landlady Dead

AP

FILE - This Sept. 14, 2011 file photo shows actor Johnny Lewis posing for a portrait during the 36th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. Authorities say Lewis fell to his death after killing an elderly Los Angeles woman.

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Why was troubled Sons of Anarchy Actor Johnny Lewis Released?

Patrick Healy reports.

Los Feliz Double Death: Police Investigate Drug Use

The man suspected of attacking his 81-year-old landlady before falling to his death had a list of screen credits, and he also had a rap sheet. Now investigators are looking into whether drugs played a role in the bizarre string of events. Patrick Healy reports from Los Feliz for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Sept. 27, 2012.
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The deadly Sept. 26 Los Feliz rampage unleashed by troubled actor Johnny Lewis following his release from jail came just three months after he had left a mental health drug treatment program that his own attorney wanted him to continue, NBC4 has learned.

"It was pretty clear he had some issues that weren't purely criminal," attorney Jonathan Mandel said.

Long before he died in a fall from a roof after possibly strangling an 81-year-old woman, Lewis had left his role as an outlaw biker on the FX show "Sons of Anarchy." It had been years since he dated then-rising pop star Katy Perry.

He was indigent and facing two felonies, assault and attempted burglary. In February, in a third case, Lewis had served a 12-day sentence after pleading guilty to misdemeanor battery for allegedly punching a customer at a Santa Monica yogurt shop.

Attorney Mandel got two psychiatric analyses for his client. 

"They both agreed he had potentially chemically induced psychosis, or drug-induced psychosis. That was their belief," Mandel said in an interview with NBC4.

During the period that the criminal cases were pending, a pre-sentencing report prepared by the Probation Department raised Lewis' psychological issues.

"The defendant will continue to be a threat to any community he may reside," wrote the probation officer.

But Mandel emphasized that the psychiatrists did not see Lewis as homicidal, and that Lewis' illness was not deemed severe enough to institutionalize him in a state mental hospital.

Instead, Mandel got court and jail permission last May to get Lewis transferred from jail to an in-patient treatment program at Altadena's Ridgeview Ranch, a "dual diagnosis" facility for individuals who suffer from both substance addiction and mental health issues.

"We feel that Mr. Lewis is positive toward recovery at this time," read the primary counselor's July 25 report to the court.

Lewis, then 28, had progressed to the point where he was being allowed occasionally to leave the facility with his father. All drug tests came back negative, the court was told.

Mandel believed Lewis should have continued with treatment at Ridgeview.

"Should he have stayed, he would have transitioned out after a while, I believe. He was on his way," Mandel said.

For the January San Fernando Valley assault case, a "strike" offense in which Lewis allegedly entered a condo and hit two men with a bottle of water, Lewis faced a worst-case scenario of a prison sentence.

A plea offer proposed before Mandel undertook Lewis's representation was still on the table, calling for no prison and instead a county jail term of one year that likely would be shortened.

Mandel saw another path, and proposed an alternative agreement that would spare Lewis any further jail time if he continued receiving treatment for two years.

Lewis did not want that. He was willing to stay in jail rather than continue treatment.

"He felt -- and he told the court -- he did not need it," Mandel said.

What's more, Lewis felt Mandel had "betrayed" him by negotiating an agreement for more treatment, Mandel said.

In San Fernando Court on Aug. 8, Lewis told Judge Cynthia Ulfig he no longer wanted Mandel as his lawyer and would prefer to represent himself.

Judge Ulfig found that Lewis was "competent," according to the court docket.

Lewis proceeded to accept the original plea agreement, the one calling for a year jail sentence, and told the court he would not contest the assault charge, entering a plea of "nolo contendere."

The court calculated that Lewis had already spent 153 days in custody, and in addition was entitled to 68 days' credit for good time/work time, bringing his total credits to 221 days, leaving 144 days on the sentence.

Later in August, at the Airport Courthouse, Lewis also pled nolo in the attempted burglary case and received a concurrent sentence, thus facing no additional jail time.

In this era of jail overcrowding, there was no expectation that Lewis would actually be held another 144 days.

Instead he was released after 44 days, regaining his freedom Sept. 21.

Five days later, Lewis plunged to his death on the driveway of the Loz Feliz house where he had stayed as a boarder. Inside, police found landlord Catherine Davis, 81, had been strangled, police believe by Lewis, though an official determination has yet to be made.

Investigators were pursuing the possibility Lewis was under the influence of methamphetamines or other powerful stimulants, according to Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith. Results have yet to come back from the Coroner's toxicology analysis.

NBC4 has requested an opportunity to discuss Lewis with Judge Ulfig, and awaits a decision.

The District Attorney's office declined a request to speak with Jeffrey Boxer, the prosecutor who handled the San Fernando case.

Mandel believes no one in the court process had any inkling Lewis was capable of the violence unleashed in Los Feliz. Mandel can only wonder if another psychiatric assessment might have indicated the need for an involuntary commitment.

"In retrospect, if there's anything that could have been done, it would be having someone assess him,  perhaps not giving him that choice, saying, 'You need this.'"

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