A New Windsor man was released Monday after he was found not criminally responsible for shooting his wife in the neck in 2014.
The decision has left his wife in fear for her and her family's lives and with questions, specifically about why the defense attorney said Keith Edward Sluder was on Chantix, a smoking cessation drug, when he shot her through the neck.
"It's not just me that I'm scared [for]. It's not me and my family I'm afraid [for]. Its everyone around us," Lura Sluder said during Monday morning's hearing.
Keith Sluder, 43, formerly of the 3300 block of Hooper Road, was using Chantix, which caused him to have a chemical imbalance that led him to a psychotic episode where he shot his wife, according to his attorney, Lawrence Greenberg. But Lura Sluder, who has filed for divorce, said Keith Sluder was not on Chantix the night of the assault.
"That's what's driving me crazy. If he was on Chantix, I would have said Chantix. I had nothing to hide," Lura Sluder said after during a phone interview after the hearing.
Lura Sluder said she does not know where the defense got the idea that Keith Sluder was taking Chantix. It was not discussed until last spring, she said during the interview.
Greenberg said he learned about the possible role of Chantix from the State's Attorney's Office after they told him a paramedic that treated Lura Sluder that night said she told him she was worried Keith Sluder was on the drug.
The night of the incident, Lura Sluder said Keith Sluder asked her about where he should apply a smoking cessation patch. The question wasn't unusual, she said, because he often asked her about medication.
That night, Nov. 12, 2014, Keith Sluder woke his wife once to ask about applying the patch, she said. Then, a second time, frantically, to tell her she needed to get dressed and wake the kids to take them to his mother's place. She was putting on clothes and followed him up the stairs in their split-level house, when Keith Sluder shot her, she said during testimony at Monday's hearing.
She didn't realize she had been shot right away. She first noticed the blood on the stairs, she said in court.
"When I stood up, there at the top of the stairs, was my husband of 21 years pointing a gun at me," she said during testimony.
Keith Sluder pulled the trigger again, but the chamber was either empty or malfunctioned, Circuit Court Chief Allan Culver said while reading the statement of facts during the hearing. Culver represented the state with Senior Assistant State's Attorney Brenda Harkavy.
Keith Sluder took an Alford plea Monday to one count of first-degree assault, which means he maintained his innocence, but admitted that the prosecution has enough evidence to prove that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Remaining charges, including one count each of first- and second-degree attempted murder, were entered as nolle prosequi, or abandoned by the state.
Presiding Judge Thomas Stansfield accepted the Alford plea but found Sluder to be not criminally responsible for his actions and ordered him to be released.
During the hearing Monday, Greenberg presented the idea that his client was on Chantix during the incident. The state did not agree to the specific drug, but agreed that he was involuntarily intoxicated.
Greenberg told Stansfield that his client was not criminally responsible because he had a chemical imbalance, due to taking Chantix, that led to his client's actions.
"This is something Keith Sluder would have never voluntarily done, but hopefully healing in the community, healing between the parties will occur," Greenberg said.
It's a horrible situation for his client, as well as his family and the community, Greenberg said.
"Our hearts go out to Lura and her family and everyone in the community," he said.
Pfizer, the pharmacy company that manufactures Chantix, said there is no scientific evidence that the drug causes "serious neuropsychiatric events," said Steven Danehy, the company's spokesman in an email. Danehy cited a recent study in journal The Lancet, which did not show a significant increase of psychiatric events for people taking varenicline, or Chantix, compared to a placebo or the smoking cessation patch, he said in his email.
"Chantix [varenicline] is an important, effective, FDA-approved treatment option for adult smokers who want to quit. Chantix is approved for use in more than 100 countries and has been prescribed to over 20 million patients worldwide, including more than 11 million in the United States," Danehy said in an email.
As part of his release, Keith Sluder must adhere to special conditions for five years, which include, but are not limited to, supervision by parole and probation with three years also supervised by pretrial services. He cannot contact Lura Sluder or come by the family's home, school or place of work, Greenberg told Keith Sluder during the hearing.
Under the conditions, Keith Sluder can only contact his children by letters and only if they first reach out to him.
The special conditions were one of the reasons that the state agreed to the not criminally responsible finding. The state was concerned that if the case went to court, it would be difficult to prove that Keith Sluder voluntarily got intoxicated, Culver said. If the case had gone to trial and Keith Sluder found not criminally responsible, the state would not have been able to control the special conditions of his release, Culver said.
Lura Sluder said after the trial that she believed the State's Attorney's Office had her best interests in mind and that the special conditions would provide some protection from Keith Sluder for the next five years.
But she would have liked to see him locked away longer, saying she wanted at least 15 years to allow her youngest child to grow up without having to worry about Keith Sluder hurting the family again.
"You don't shoot someone, serve 21 months and walk out that door," she said during testimony at the hearing.
She said she does not know if Keith Sluder will hurt her or her family again, but she is fearful he will. She said she never thought he would hurt her in the first place.
Before that night, the two were in love, she said. There had been some strain on their marriage, but neither Lura Sluder nor her niece, Christina Jacobs, said Keith Sluder had ever hurt his wife before.
"To me, those two were the idea of true love," Jacobs said.
But he did, and had the bullet been a millimeter closer to her spine, Lura Sluder would be dead, Jacobs said.
"It was unexpected," Jacobs said. "No one would have ever expected Keith could do that to Lura."
Jacobs said the lifetime protection order is just a piece of paper.
"Now I'm just really scared for my family," she said.
She's not the only one.
During the hearing, Lura Sluder's stepmother, father, daughter and other family members told Stansfield how they feared for Lura Sluder and her family now that Keith Sluder was being released.
"Keith Sluder not only attempted to murder his wife that night. He robbed his children of their innocence," said Maralee Jacobs, Lura Sluder's stepmother.
One of the Sluders' children spoke at the hearing, telling the judge about seeing Lura Sluder's blood on the stairs and having watched Keith Sluder chase Lura Sluder to the neighbor's home.
"If my dad gets out, I'll never feel safe again," the child said.
Lura Sluder said the family found out Friday about the Monday hearing and that Keith Sluder would likely be released. While the judge had already found Keith Sluder not criminally responsible, multiple family members, including Lura Sluder, asked the judge not to release him.
"We were hoping for a miracle today. That he wouldn't get out somehow," Christina Jacobs said.
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