Judge detains woman accused of making ricin, testing it on neighbors

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The extensive mental health history of a woman accused of manufacturing ricin and testing the deadly toxin on fellow residents of a senior living facility in Vermont includes prior hospitalizations and suicide attempts, a federal judge said Wednesday. 

The judge ordered Betty Miller, 70, to continue to be detained, while her lawyer said he was looking for an appropriate placement for her. 

Miller was taken into custody last week after telling investigators that she made the ricin because she wanted to "injure herself" and had tested the poison's effectiveness on other residents by putting it in their food or beverages, authorities said. 

The Health Department said it became aware of one person who likely became ill with ricin poisoning, but said no one is currently ill.

Ricin Retirement Community

A sign marks the entrance to the Wake Robin retirement community, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in Shelburne, Vt. 

Lisa Rathke / AP

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 believed Betty Miller was living in her apartment at Wake Robin alone. 

Miller said she harvested 30 to 40 castor beans from plants growing on Wake Robin's property and made 2 to 3 tablespoons of ricin twice in her kitchen, the federal complaint said. She exposed other residents to the ricin on at least three occasions, it said. 

A fellow resident, who did not know Miller, said she believed Miller concocted the story about poisoning others. 

"We're all fine," Claire Anderson said.