A 70-year-old Wake Robin resident is due for arraignment in U.S. District Court on Friday on a felony charge that she possessed the poison ricin at the upscale retirement community in Shelburne.
Betty Miller was named in a one-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury last Thursday, according to federal court records.
The indictment maintains Miller knowingly possessed ricin, an unregistered biological agent, in October and until about Nov. 27.
The hearing will be Miller’s first chance to enter a plea. She has retained veteran Burlington lawyer Paul Volk to defend her.
The indictment follows a criminal complaint filed by the FBI on Nov. 30 that led to her arrest.
Miller, who has made two brief appearances in federal court, remains in prison. Federal Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy has ordered her detained, but said he would consider a possible release plan if the defense could find a suitable placement.
The FBI recently obtained at least the third search warrant in the case. Investigators want to look at a black smartphone that belongs to Miller and has been in the possession of the UVM Medical Center. Special Agent Mark Emmons wrote in an affidavit on Dec. 7 that the FBI learned the week of Dec. 4 that the cellphone has remained at the Burlington hospital since Miller’s arrest.
The search warrant authorized a forensic examination to identify the electronically stored information on it since June 1. The FBI is targeting information dealing with ricin and other toxins and their production.
The FBI also is interested in any documents that might show any intent by Miller to harm people or that she planned to test the ricin. The FBI also wants to know about any travel and her schedule from June 1 until the execution of the warrant in November.
Authorities earlier obtained search warrants for her Wake Robin residence and her 2014 white four-door Subaru Impreza.
Writing in an affidavit, Emmons noted that he has investigated cases involving weapons of mass destruction and that he has specialized training regarding a variety of hazardous materials. He wrote that ricin is among the toxins that have “the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety.”
The Shelburne Fire and Police Departments and the State Hazardous Materials response team responded to the retirement complex on Tuesday, Nov. 28, after Wake Robin officials were alerted that Miller had driven herself to the hospital the day before for possible treatment, officials said.
Shelburne Police Officer Cole Charbonneau also reported on Nov. 28 that Miller had “made statements to health care providers about manufacturing ricin, a highly toxic powder produced from the seeds of the castor oil plant, and placing it on food and/or beverages ingested by other Wake Robin residents,” Emmons wrote.
Emmons added, “On at least three occasions, Miller exposed other residents to the ricin she had produced by placing it on food and/or beverages she expected them to ingest.”
At least one other person at Wake Robin tested positive for the poison, records show.
“Ms. Miller indicated her goal was to injure herself, but she wanted to test the effectiveness of the ricin on others,” Emmons wrote.
Miller’s car was impounded by Vermont State Police based on concerns for public health on Nov. 27.
A subsequent search of her Wake Robin apartment uncovered various pill bottles, including one marked “Ricin” that was half-full of a yellowish/white powder, Emmons wrote. Investigators found a laptop computer and a sheet of instructions for making ricin that appeared to have been printed from the internet.
The powder later tested positive as ricin, he said.
Prosecutors maintain she is a danger to be at large. Miller lived alone in unit 110 on the ground floor of a three-story building known as Hornbeam at the continuing care facility.
“By her own admission, she administered those substances to other residents in order to test their efficacy. While she has indicated her ultimate intent was to hurt herself, she demonstrated a callous disregard for the lives of others in the process,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia A.P. Cowles wrote in court papers.
Miller remains at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington.
The Associated Press reported that Miller was a longtime New Hampshire resident after marrying Dr. Joseph Miller in 1976. The couple had two children, including a son who lives in Vermont. After retiring, Joseph Miller served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives as a Democrat from Durham, the AP reported.