It took a Mercer County jury under two hours to convict a Rural Retreat woman of first-degree murder in the 2018 slaying and decapitation of her boyfriend’s son.
The three-day trial came to a close Thursday afternoon when the jury found 42- year-old Roena Cheryl Mills guilty without the recommendation of mercy. In West Virginia, the penalty for first-degree murder is a life sentence. A life without mercy sentence would mean Mills would never be eligible for parole.
Accused of beheading 29-year-old Bo Allen White at his home in Lerona, West Virginia, on April 1, 2018, the Wythe County native stood trial in Mercer County Circuit Court.
According to area media reports, a medical examiner testified during the trial that White had also been stabbed twice in the neck, twice in the abdomen, once in the back and 13 times in the chest. He also suffered head trauma.
In a Friday morning phone interview, Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said five cheaply made kitchen steak knives were presented to the jury as evidence, one of which was found in Mills’ car at the scene where Bo White’s headless body was found.
The knives were bent and bloody, Sitler said. “They were not destined for that job.”
Mills’ attorneys attempted to cast doubt that Mills was physically capable of committing the crime, pointing the finger instead at Bo White’s father, Jimmy White, who they suggested committed the crime in a fit of jealousy, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported.
According to the Telegraph, Jimmy White first met Mills while she was working at a well-known area strip club in the mid-90s. They later became lovers. In his testimony, Jimmy White acknowledged that he and his son had had a falling out because his son was trying to sleep with Mills, the newspaper reported.
The defense also pointed to fact that Jimmy White had admitted to being at his son’s home looking for pills after his son had been killed and did not call police. Jimmy White told the court he thought it was an April Fools’ prank when he found what appeared to be a headless body on the floor at his son’s home.
Mills’ defense attorneys also questioned the presence of hairs found in Bo White’s hand during the autopsy. Those hairs had not initially been sent for analysis.
Sitler said the autopsy report was released eight months after it was completed and that the hairs have since been sent to be analyzed.
“If that hair contains DNA from someone other than Roena Mills, then we’ll prosecute another suspect for involvement,” he said.
During Friday’s interview, Sitler said while Jimmy White may have been more involved than he would admit, the evidence overwhelmingly incriminated Mills.
In addition to the knives, Sitler said a neighbor testified that he saw Mills near the woods where police later located Bo White’s severed head. The man said he asked her to leave and even offered her a ride, but Mills was very agitated and didn’t seem to have a firm grasp on what was going on, Sitler said.
The neighbor ended up calling the police, who found Mills still near the woods wearing a work glove on her left hand. Investigators later found the mate to that work glove near Bo White’s body in his home.
A friend of Mills’ also testified that he had spoken to her that night. Sitler said the man told the court that she seemed agitated and asked for a chainsaw and some gasoline. The friend wouldn’t allow Mills to use his chainsaw, but did give her gasoline. Sitler said investigators found 10 gallons of gasoline inside Mills’ car.
Sitler said Mills never made an admission to the killing, but that she made several spontaneous declarations that she was clearly involved. When police first took Mills into custody, Sitler said she told them “you have to let me go back and get my heads.” She also told them that she needed to finish what she was doing.
Mills later told jail staff, “I’ve already got one body. You guy’s ain’t nothing,” Sitler said.
The prosecutor said the motive for the killing appeared to be rob Bo White of his drugs and money. He pointed out that several people testified that the morning after his son was killed Jimmy White was vigorously searching for drugs to get his fix. Jimmy White had no drugs and no money. Mills, on the other hand, had both, Sitler said.
“While there has been speculation that his involvement may have been greater than he admits, there was evidence that he didn’t come back with any fruits of the crime.”
Sitler said a lot violent crimes in Mercer County are tied to the drug trade. What made Bo White’s homicide unusual was the mutilation of his body.
Following Mills’ arrest, her competency was called into question by both the defense and prosecution, but two psychological evaluations determined she was competent to stand trial.
In sharp contrast to her appearance when she first appeared in court a year and a half ago, photographs and video from area news outlets show Mills with much shorter and darker hair and with significant weight gain. She also sported what appears to be a new tattoo that says, “Special Kinda Crazy.”
Following the jury’s verdict, Mills’ attorney’s asked that it be set aside, giving notice that they would like to pursue a new trial. If that request is denied, Mills’ sentencing hearing will be held Jan. 6, 2020.