HARRISONBURG — A Rockingham County judge ruled Thursday that a woman who strangled her mother in 2011 can’t be released from a state mental hospital.
On June 7, 2012, Rockingham County Circuit Court Judge T.J. Wilson found that Lori Ann Mitchell, 52, was legally insane when she killed Betty Lou Armstrong, 68, and, therefore, not guilty of first-degree murder.
On Thursday, Wilson told Mitchell that while she’s doing well in in-patient care at Western State Hospital, he’s not willing to take a risk releasing her under a proposed conditional release plan.
“She’s proven she does well in a controlled environment,” he said. “I’m not persuaded she’ll receive the treatment she needs under the plan.”
On Aug. 26, for the first time since the verdict, Mitchell’s attorney sought her conditional release.
At the hearing, attorney Tracy Evans told Wilson that Mitchell would be closely monitored by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Community Services Board.
Mitchell has been allowed on roughly 50 two-day passes, where she stays at a CSB apartment.
Under the conditional release plan, Mitchell would have been required to stay in housing provided by the Community Services Board. She would need to check in with staff three times a day and take her medication in front of them.
“We’re not opening the door and letting her out. … There’s a very strict plan,” he said.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst opposed the release, saying nothing guaranteed Mitchell wouldn’t pose a risk to the public.
“Fairly certain is not good enough when you’re dealing with human lives,” she said. “Nothing is 100%.”
The case began April 23, 2011, when Armstrong was found dead in her daughter’s apartment at 1105-C Lincolnshire Drive, just west of Harrisonburg.
The two women were fighting when Armstrong was killed, police say, but Mitchell has never told investigators what the dispute was about. She did confess to killing her mother.
During a hearing the day after the murder, she told a judge that she killed her mother and wanted to start serving her sentence.
However, Evans requested his client have a mental evaluation based off of his conversations with her.
“She kept repeating that there was a war between Jesus, the Virgin Mary and demons,” Evans stated at the previous hearing. “She thought it was a demon masquerading as her mother because her mother already went to heaven because the rapture had occurred.”
Mitchell, if no new conditional release plans are submitted, will return to court on Sept. 10, 2021, for a biannual review.