PRINCETON — A Rural Retreat, Va. woman was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday for the first-degree murder and decapitation of a Lerona man on Easter Sunday 2018.
Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Mark Wills told Roena Mills, 43, that she was sentenced to spend the “remainder of your natural life” in prison.
Wills said she is not eligible for parole and the sentence is following the jury’s recommendation of no mercy.
Before sentencing, Willis denied a motion by defense attorney Ward Morgan for a new trial.
Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said the sentence is the maximum under West Virginia law.
“This is surely the appropriate sentence in this case,” he said after Mills was sentenced. “Life without mercy is the most serious penalty available under West Virginia law.”
Mills was convicted of the murder of Bo White, 29, by a jury in December 2019.
White’s decapitated body was discovered April 1. His head was later found nearby in a wooded area.
According to previous testimony, Mills came out of the woods near Bo White’s home on the morning of April 1 bloody, agitated and disheveled, and telling deputies investigating her sudden appearance that they had to let her finish what she was doing and “you have to let me go back and get my heads.”
During the trial, jurors heard the details of the incident, including the involvement of White’s father, James White.
In his closing arguments, Sitler explained the defense’s theory that Bo White’s father, James “Jimmy” White, was the person who killed him. Mills had known Jimmy White since 1995 when he was a truck driver and she worked at a strip club.
“Is Jimmy White as clean and pure as the driven snow?” Sitler said to the jury. “No…he’s a flawed man.
“Was Jimmy White complicit in his son’s death? Sitler asked. He was “possibly” involved. The prosecution did acknowledge that Jimmy White brought Bo White into a world of drug abuse.
Sitler described Bo White as a “sickly, introverted boy” who was 29-years-old and played with Star Wars figures. He lived alone, but he had money thanks to a disability check.
James White testified during the trial that he found his son’s decapitated body and thought a prank was being played on him. Sitler said Jimmy White wasn’t acting like a rational person when he found the body; he was acting like a drug addict.
“He didn’t want to face it,” Sitler said of James White’s reaction to finding his son’s body. “He wanted to get high. That’s what junkies do. That’s how they deal with life or don’t deal with it.”
Sitler outlined other evidence and testimony. A summary of the cellphone traffic obtained from Bo White’s cellphone, which was found on his decapitated body, showed that the last message Mills sent to him was about 10:35 p.m. on March 31, 2018. In the message, she said, “I’m trying to get my things. Give me a few minutes.”
Why Mills was visiting Bo White had not been determined. Trading pills for sexual favors was one possibility, Sitler said, describing Bo White as “an awkward, sickly shut-in who didn’t have a real life.”
“His father had introduced him to a manipulative woman,” Sitler said. “She knew Bo had a pocket full of pills and a pocket full of cash.”
Another witness, Joe Fleming, testified that Mills asked to borrow gasoline and a chainsaw from him, and wanted him to come with her, Sitler said during the trial. She knew he was a veteran who had seen situations which were beyond her experience.
“It (the murder) was as serious a confrontation to her as the Vietnam War,” Sitler stated.
When Bo White was lying on the floor of his home, Mills realized “there was a body that needed to be disposed of,” Sitler said.
Mills texted people from midnight to about 4:30 a.m. trying to get people like Joe Fleming to help her. When Fleming would not let her borrow his chainsaw, the only tools she had on hand were “cheap kitchen knives.”
Sitler compared the task of severing Bo White’s head with cutting up a chicken, saying “all that flesh and bone is hard to cut with a good knife.”
Fleming testified that Mills had a cut on her hand when she came to him and asked about the chainsaw, Sitler said.
“Maybe she got started, decided it was too much work, went to get the chainsaw, couldn’t get it and came back,” he said.
Defense attorney Sidney Bell told the jury that there was “zero evidence” of Mills and Bo White ever having a problem between them. The only problem occurred when James White, who had had sexual relations with Mills for years, got angry when Bo starting having a relationship with her.
Bell then said Mills was invited to Bo White’s home that night. James White also called that night and had a brief conversation with his son, who was murdered shortly afterward.
“Our theory is that Jimmy White was jealous of her relationship with Bo … and Jimmy White is a terrible person,” Bell said.
In this theory, James White called about 10:51 p.m., found Mills and his son together and murdered his son in a jealous rage, Bell stated. Mills, shaken by the experience, left the home.
The autopsy report showed that Bo White had died in a violent attack which included blows and stab wounds which required “a lot of strength” to inflict. Bell said he had seen such cases both as a defense attorney and a prosecutor.
“As an old prosecutor, we call that a crime of passion,” he told the jury, later adding, “ Someone with a lot of strength and a lot of rage had to kill this man.”
Mills’ car was found in Bo White’s driveway, but she was agitated and had blood and injuries on her when she was found, Bell stated.
After the verdict, Bell and Morgan filed a motion for a new trial. Wills heard the motion on Jan. 7.
At that motion hearing, Bell told Wills that the defense wanted the court to set aside the jury’s verdict and give Mills a new trial.
Bell argued that Mills was denied a fair trial. He said that telephone records used at the trial were not authenticated, and that the cellphones Mills and Bo White had used to send text messages to each other were not recovered. Bloody clothes that Mills was wearing when she was first detained were never tested or retained, and that the first officer on the scene thought the blood could have been hers because of her injuries. Hair that was found clutched in Bo White’s hand was not tested.
During the trial, Bell had inferred that Bo White’s father, Jimmie White, had visited his son’s home the night of the murder, found him with Mills and killed him in a fit of jealously. Bell said that deputies found a collection of knives and swords at Jimmie White’s home that could have been used, but did not learn this until after the trial.
Bell also argued that Sitler, who represented the state with Assistant Prosecutor David Pfeifer, made “numerous references” during the trial about Mills being a drug addict ready to do anything to get drugs and bragging about murder. A tattoo saying “A special kind of crazy” was visible on her chest during the trial.
“No one testified about that,” Bell said. “The effect of that was to unfairly prejudice the jury against her and deny her a fair trial.”
Sitler stated during that Jan. 7 hearing that Bo White’s cellphone had been retained as evidence, and that there was never a request to examine it. It would have been made available if a request had been made.
Witnesses had testified about Mills making statements such as “your head will be in my lap,” Sitler told the court.
On the subject of Jimmie White, Sitler said the possibility that he could have been involved in his son’s death has never been denied.
“I would respectfully ask the court to deny the motion,” Sitler said at the Jan. 7 hearing.
Wills then set the Jan. 27 date to decide on the motion, followed by sentencing if the motion were denied.
After Wills denied the motion on Monday, Morgan, who was with Mills in court, once again asked Wills to grant a new trial or delay his decision, requesting the motion be “preserved” pending forensic evidence that “may have a bearing” on the case.
Morgan was referring to evidence from the investigation that is still currently being examined.
But Wills denied the motion and proceeded with sentencing.
Morgan also requested that a public defender for Mills be appointed to handle any appeals in the case.
During the sentencing, Mills stood to face Wills but said nothing and showed no reaction.
She has remained incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail on a $200,000 cash only bond.
After sentencing, Sitler also said the case also illustrates the “menace we are facing in Mercer County” with the spread of methamphetamine, a drug the investigation revealed was connected to the crime.
“Methamphetmine is an extremely dangerous drug and makes people act in horrible, unpredictable ways,” he said. “I have written a bill to enhance the penalty for meth distribution to take it from one to five years in jail to three to 15 years.”
Sitler said Del. John Shott, R-Mercer County, has indicated he will be introducing that into the legislature this term.
“I would encourage people to call their legislators and support this enhancement,” he said. “The penalty for that drug is not currently sufficient under West Virginia law.”
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com