New Hampshire

Judge: Ricin Poisoning Suspect Has History of Mental Health Problems

At a court hearing Wednesday, a federal judge briefly discussed the extensive mental health history of the Vermont woman accused of trying to poison her friends and neighbors with the potentially deadly substance ricin.

Judge John Conroy said during the hearing at U.S. District Court in Burlington that Betty Miller, 70, had been hospitalized multiple times for psychiatric care, and has made prior suicide attempts.

Miller allegedly cooked up the biotoxin in her own kitchen, using internet research and ingredients picked from the campus of Wake Robin, an upscale retirement community in Shelburne where Miller lived until her arrest last week.

"Needless to say, this is a unique situation," Judge Conroy noted of the case.

In a short hearing Wednesday, Conroy decided Miller should stay in the custody of U.S. Marshals, until space can be found for her in a facility with the appropriate treatment for her needs.

In a motion for detention filed with the court last week, federal prosecutors wrote, "it appears even the most stringent of release conditions would not ensure Ms. Miller does not prepare further dangerous substances and/or attempt those around her."

Wednesday, Conroy also made note of the fact the suspect has no criminal record.

Miller used a cane to help her walk into the hearing, and had a visible limp. She was wearing hospital-style scrubs and was handcuffed prior to the start of the hearing.

After the hearing concluded, necn observed to Miller’s defense attorney, Paul Volk, that his client appeared to be in good spirits. Volk responded, "As much as one could imagine, under the circumstances."

Volk declined to answer several questions about Miller in the wake of the allegations against her.

"I’m not going to be able to talk about communications with my client," Volk said.

In a criminal complaint filed last week, the FBI said Miller planned to use the homemade poison to harm herself.

First, the FBI said, she wanted to see how it worked by sprinkling it in the food and drinks of other residents at Wake Robin.

The retirement community released a statement Friday which said it has received assurances from law enforcement and health officials that its community is now safe, and that it continues to focus on the comfort and privacy of its residents.

Among the many steps taken to protect its residents, Wake Robin said last week that it removed all castor plants from its landscaping. That plant is a key ingredient in manufacturing ricin.

The Vermont Health Department confirmed to necn last week that lab tests on one woman from the community did detect low levels of a substance in her system that could’ve come from the ricin, or perhaps from something else derived from the same plant, like castor oil.

However, since that woman did become mildly ill, law enforcement does suspect she was poisoned, a source tells necn.

"I don’t think she would have come to anyone’s attention, except for the fact she was identified by law enforcement as part of their investigation of the case," Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health said Friday of the woman’s mild symptoms. "She was doing well the next morning."

Betty Miller has not entered a plea to the charge of knowingly possessing an unregistered biological agent. There has been no indictment yet in this case.

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