BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The extensive mental health history of a woman accused of manufacturing ricin and testing the deadly toxin on fellow residents of an upscale senior living facility in Vermont includes hospitalizations and suicide attempts, a federal judge said Wednesday.
The judge ordered Betty Miller, 70, to continue to be detained. Her lawyer said he was looking for a more appropriate place for her other than jail, given her mental state.
Miller was taken into custody last week after telling investigators she made the ricin because she wanted to "injure herself" and had tested the poison's effectiveness by putting it in residents' food or beverages.
Federal prosecutors said Health Department testing of a person Miller admitted to poisoning came back positive for the presence of ricinine, which is an indicator of potential ricin exposure but also may indicate exposure to other castor derivatives, such as castor oil. The department said Friday no one at the senior living facility is currently ill.
Miller said she harvested 30 to 40 castor beans from plants growing on Wake Robin's property and made two or three tablespoons of ricin twice in her kitchen and exposed residents to the ricin on at least three occasions, the federal complaint says.
A powder found in a pill bottle in Miller's kitchen cabinet labeled "ricin" tested positive for the toxin, the complaint says.
Judge John Conroy noted that Miller had no prior criminal history, no substance abuse and strong family ties. Her detention will be revisited if an appropriate treatment plan is found, he said.
Miller had lived for a long time in New Hampshire after marrying Dr. Joseph Miller in 1976. The couple had two children, including a son who lives in Vermont. He did not return a phone call seeking comment. After retiring, Joseph Miller served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives as a Democrat from Durham.
"He was attentive to his wife who had experienced some difficulty in coping," said fellow state Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Democrat from Durham, who is still serving in the Legislature.
Acting Shelburne Police Chief Aaron Noble said Tuesday that he believes Betty Miller was living alone in her apartment at Wake Robin.
A fellow resident, who did not know Miller, said she believes Miller concocted the story about poisoning others.
"We're all fine," Claire Anderson said.
Associated Press writers Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, Marina Villeneuve in Portland, Maine, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.