Murder suspect failed to appear in court a day before shooting

Murder suspect failed to appear in court a day before shooting

EUGENE, Ore. -- A man charged in Wednesday's murder in Springfield had been arrested just one week before but wasn't kept in jail due to a shortage of resources.

Police arrested Ronald Joshua Smith, 27, on suspicion of car theft on Aug. 25, but Smith was back on the street the next day.

Smith has pleaded guilty to a felony charges before, including burglary and firearm charges.

His record wasn't enough for Lane County Pre-trial Services to keep him in custody on Aug. 26 when he was charged with felonies related to a car theft.

He was given a court date of Sept. 2 and released.

Sept. 2 came and went. Smith failed to show up for trial, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

No one went looking for him.

"There is in fact never anything done about failure to appear," said Alex Gardner, a Lane County deputy district attorney.

The next day, according to police, Smith took part in the drive-by shooting that killed Wendy Jo Whitaker, 35, in Springfield, Ore.

"You don't have to play back too much tape to hear me say this is inevitable," said Gardner. "Every budget period every year."

Jail officials said one better option for handling Smith would have been electronic monitoring like an ankle bracelet.

Update on the investigation

Police believe the shooting was a drug deal gone bad and that Whitaker was not the intended target.

Police think Smith and Michael Wesley Jr. had an ongoing dispute with Whitaker's boyfriend.

Smith told police that he, Wesley and a third man he did not know tried to force their way into Whitaker's home in an attempt to rob and assault Jessie Anderson, Whitaker's boyfriend, as payback for a bad drug deal, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by the Springfield Police Department.

They found the door locked, so they threw a breaker switch, cutting power to the residence in an attempt to force Anderson to come outside.

The three waited in a stolen Honda Accord. When Whitaker drove up to pick up Anderson, Smith drove the Honda up along side Whitaker's vehicle, allowing Wesley to fire a .45 and the unknown man to fire a 20-gauge shotgun at the car, according to the affidavit.

The three fled the scene and split up after dumping the car and showering at Wesley's brother-in-law's home on River Road, according to the affidavit.

Police arrested Smith around 2 p.m. later that day.