To be clear: I don't think it should be this easy to involuntarily commit citizens to psychiatric wards.

There is huge danger in giving government too much leeway in such matters, and no shortage of historical and present-day proof that flimsy involuntary commitment standards will be abused by the powerful.

But when I hear the brother of accused Capitol Hill hatchet murderer Michael LaRosa saying that he wishes someone had listened to his request that LaRosa be involuntarily committed long before the murder of Joseph LaMagno, well, I can't help but think of this:

In March 2008, a tall, tough-looking man walked into a financial-services firm in King County and began taking notes. His name, according to court records: Isaiah M. Kalebu. He'd arrived with his pit bull, Indo, and during a break from the note-taking he informed a secretary that he was the rightful owner of the firm's building. He said he'd bought the property using proceeds from the sugar trade, but it had since been stolen from him. Then he wandered around, telling various people they were fired before making himself and Indo comfortable in the conference room.

Police were called. Kalebu, 22 years old at the time, was taken to the Psychiatric Emergency Services division at Harborview Medical Center for evaluation. In conversations with staff there, his mother, Denise Kalebu, said that for the past two months her son had been behaving unusually. He slept only three hours a night but appeared completely rested. He spoke so rapidly, it was hard to find space for interruption. Some things he said were wildly grandiose: "I'm the king," for example, or that he was the president of the United States but had recently resigned. He was irritable, unfocused, hostile to people he believed had done him wrong. He said he was going to steal his mother's grandchildren and take them to Africa.

Asked about all of this by Harborview staff, Kalebu denied it. Nothing was at all unusual about the last two months, he said, save for his becoming more enlightened and "being in the zone."

He made it perfectly clear: He was "not crazy."

The staff at Harborview noted Kalebu's pressured speech, intense mood, tangential thoughts, intrusiveness toward other patients, and an odd smile—it seemed disconnected from the realities of the moment, a sign of what psychiatrists call a "labile affect," or, in more evocative terms, emotional incontinence. Their diagnosis: bipolar disorder, manic.

It's a diagnosis that can suggest a heightened risk of violence, and after spending some time with Kalebu, Harborview staff came to believe that his impulsivity, combined with worrisome statements he was making, "placed him at imminent risk of hurting others." A mental-health professional, employed by King County and authorized to involuntarily commit Kalebu if necessary, was summoned. The mental-health professional decided to let Kalebu go free.

That episode was the first of a number of missed opportunities to detain and effectively treat Kalebu in the 16 months leading up to the July 19 attack inside the South Park home of Teresa Butz. Kalebu, linked to the crime by fingerprint and DNA evidence, is alleged to have climbed through the home's bathroom window at around 3:00 a.m., raped Butz and her partner at knifepoint, and stabbed them both as they began to fight back. Butz, 39, was a downtown Seattle property manager and a volunteer board member for a group devoted to helping the homeless. She died after running naked into the street in front of her house, screaming out what had been done to her and the woman she was planning to marry.