PRINCETON — A woman charged with decapitating a man on Easter 2018 was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder without a recommendation of mercy, meaning she faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Roena Cheryl Mills, 43, of Rural Retreat, Va., was charged with first-degree murder in the homicide of Bo White, 29, at his Clover Lane house in Lerona.
White’s decapitated body was discovered April 1. His head was later found nearby in a wooded area. The case was before Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Mark Wills.
The jury deliberated for almost two hours before reaching a verdict. Members of White’s family wept when Wills read the jury’s verdict. Mills remained quiet and calm, wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt with a scooped neck that showed her tattoo that reads “Special Kinda Crazy.”
In West Virginia, first-degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison. If a conviction comes with a recommendation of mercy, a person could be eligible for parole after serving 15 years of the sentence. The jury did not recommend mercy for Mills.
In his closing argument, Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said that people get where they are in life by the choices they make. Mills was a drug addict, but nothing had been heard at trial about whether she had any mental illness.
Sitler then spoke about 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. 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.”
Mills texted people from midnight to about 4:30 a.m. trying to get people like John 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.
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.”
In his closing argument, attorney Sid Bell, who represented Mills with attorney Ward Morgan, reminded jurors of the instructions Circuit Court Judge Mark Wills gave them before they heard the closing arguments. They were not free to base a verdict on speculation or conjecture.
“Our client is charged with murder in the first-degree,” Bell said. “She is facing life in prison. Shouldn’t the state of West Virginia be required to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt? We don’t know what happened that night … you don’t know what happened that night. A not guilty verdict means the state didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the case.”
Bell told the jury that there was “zero evidence” of Mills and Bo White every 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 was read, Bell said the defense would be making a motion to set aside the verdict. Wills scheduled the hearing for early January.