Why ‘insane’ Tucson murderer was released to group home, accused of killing roommate
Many questions remain all these months later why a Tucson man convicted of murdering his grandparents more than 15 years ago was released into society.
Christopher Lambeth was ruled insane in 2007 for the murder of his grandparents in 2005. He was sentenced to the Arizona State Hospital with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
On April 12, Gilbert Police were called out to the Tilda Manor group home on Wildhorse Dr. Officers found Steven Howells beaten to death inside, they followed a trail of blood to the bathroom where they found and arrested Lambeth.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators made a records request for all of the body and dash cam video related to the response on April 12. We received dozens of video clips, several hours of footage, but almost all of it was blurred and large portions where completely in black with no video or audio.
The N4T Investigators asked the Gilbert Police Department why everything was redacted. A spokesperson sent us the following statement:
“To expeditiously fulfill Public Records Requests, it is the practice of the Gilbert Police Department to add a medium blur to videos. This is done in an effort to balance the right of the public to information against the sensitive nature of graphic content that might lead to substantial and irreparable private or public harm, the privacy interests of individuals and businesses, and the confidentiality and propriety of law enforcement training and tactics.”
The department seemed to accidentally include two portions that were unblurred. In the video, you can see officers approach two staff members of Tilda Manor who explained they had to hop a fence to get away from a resident that tried to attack them.
Officers ask to be let into the building, but the staff members forgot to bring a key. The officers try kicking in the front door unsuccessfully until a resident inside lets them in.
Officers noticed a resident inside who appeared to be injured, the video goes black when they enter the victim’s room. However, you can hear them say they are not getting a pulse. That victim, as would later be learned, is Steven Howells.
The officers can be heard describing following a trail of blood to the bathroom where they ultimately find Christopher Lambeth and arrest him.
Almost all of officer’s interaction with Lambeth was redacted, one of the clips accidentally sent to us shows Lambeth being placed in the back of a police car. However, it does not include any significant dialogue.
In 2009, Lambeth’s mother and aunt were awarded $1.5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against two non-profits for failing to transfer him to a mental healthcare facility and instead placed him with his grandparents. We were unable to reach either of them for comment.
Many of the neighbors next to Tilda Manor tell the N4T Investigators they are upset and want to know why Lambeth was allowed to live in their neighborhood with his background.
“We weren’t notified there was someone like that living in the neighborhood,” one man said.
The man does not want us to use his name but said he has lived in the area for 20 years.
“Never had anything like this happen, not even close,” he said.
Another neighbor, Gauvin Isaaca said he had to step in and help a police officer about two weeks before Howells’ murder.
“He was kicking the hell out of the cop, so I went over and asked if he needed help he said yes please hold his legs, so I held his legs until other officers showed up,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs said he is certain Christopher Lambeth was the man struggling with officers. He questioned why he was allowed to stay in the facility after that.
The N4T Investigators have reached out to Tilda Manor. We spoke with a staff member who declined to comment.
The decision to release Lambeth into a group home was made by the Arizona Psychiatric Security Review Board. The N4T Investigators have tried for weeks requesting an interview with the Boards executive director and Chairman with no response.
The board did follow through with a records request for all documents related to Lambeth going back to 2005. In September 2017, the board found Lambeth’s mental condition to be in “stable remission” and determined he could be released into a flex care facility. In September 2018, the board again found his condition was in “stable remission” determining he was no longer dangerous to live independently as long as he followed several conditions, mainly continuing treatment and not being violent.
Those records included an email from the board’s executive director after the murder, revealing Lambeth was supposed to be transferred to another facility the day of the murder. In the email, the executive director also advised staff to not talk with the media.
Gov. Doug Ducey has decided to dissolve the board in 2023, transferring the responsibilities to the courts.
We spoke with the governor’s senior policy advisor, Christina Corieri. She said Arizona is one of the few state’s left that leaves these decisions up to a board instead of the courts.
“We think these decisions will be better informed going through that judicial process and going before a judge,” Corieri said.
In June, Arizona’s Department of Health Services issued 23 citations to Tilda Manor stemming from an investigation into the facility after Lambeth’s arrest. Now, the Department of Health Services is trying to revoke the Wildhorse locations license, Tilda Manor operates four other locations in the Phoenix area.