A paranoid schizophrenic who brutally killed three pensioners hours apart in frenzied attacks has been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
A jury at Exeter Crown Court had to decide whether Alexander Lewis-Ranwell, 28, “did not know it was against the law” when he killed the three men.
The panel of eight men and four women took six hours and 15 minutes to return their unanimous verdicts.
Before returning their verdicts, the jury had given a note to the judge in which they raised their concerns about the “state of psychiatric services in the county of Devon and the failings in care in Alexander Lewis-Ranwell’s case and will be appropriately addressed following these verdicts”.
Three psychiatrists agreed Lewis-Ranwell was insane at the time he battered Anthony Payne, 80, with a hammer and bludgeoned to death with a shovel twins Dick and Roger Carter, 84.
But the prosecution argued the defendant bore some responsibility for what happened.
The court heard the former scaffolder was gripped by paranoid schizophrenia and suffering from delusions about saving young girls from a paedophile ring.
The “whirlwind of destruction” took place three hours apart at two houses just a mile-and-a-half away from each other in Exeter on February 10 this year.
Just hours before Lewis-Ranwell attacked Mr Payne in an upstairs bedroom of his terrace home, he had been released from police custody after being arrested for attacking farmer John Ellis, 82, with a saw.
This was his second arrest in the space of 24 hours and occurred just seven hours after he had been arrested for attempted burglary at another farm.
The court also heard evidence of Lewis-Ranwell’s interaction with various health professionals during his three spells in custody between February 8 and 11.
After his first arrest his mother, Jill Lewis-Ranwell, had phoned police expressing “grave concerns should he be released” but was charged and let go.
He was released from custody at Barnstaple police station at 2.49am on February 9 but returned there seven hours later after attacking Mr Ellis.
A 12-minute triage call with a mental health practitioner at 3pm identified “potential psychotic symptoms present including paranoid beliefs”.
An inspector reviewing his detention wrote at 4.11pm that Lewis-Ranwell “potentially presents as a serious risk to the public if released”.
A forensic medical examiner – a doctor employed by G4S Health Services – was escorted to Lewis-Ranwell’s cell at 6.30pm but deemed he was not “acutely unwell” and a full mental health assessment was not carried out.
Dr Mihal Pichui told jurors he left the police station with the “expectation” he would be seen by a mental health nurse the following morning but later found out this did not happen.
Lewis-Ranwell was released from Barnstaple police station at 9.32am and travelled to Exeter.
He entered the home of Mr Payne in the St David’s area of the city at about 12.30pm and picked up a rusty hammer, which he used to bludgeon the pensioner to death.
Lewis-Ranwell then scaled the wall of the Carter brothers’ home in Cowick Lane, taking a spade from the garden and using it to beat them both to death.
He was arrested for a third time a day after the killings following an incident at a hotel in Exeter where he attacked night manager Stasys Belevicius.
While in custody concerns were raised about his mental health and he was transferred to a psychiatric unit for assessment.
The defendant told a psychiatrist following his detention at Broadmoor secure hospital: “I cannot believe no-one helped me – they let me out twice when I was unwell.”
One doctor said the defendant was living in a “very nightmarish world” and believed he had a “moral justification” for the killings because he was rescuing people.
Lewis-Ranwell also thought the police had “sanctioned his actions” because they had twice released him from custody.
Another psychiatrist said he was on a “quest” to rescue girls from a locked cellar.
Lewis-Ranwell, from Croyde, north Devon, had pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity.