They had been married for almost 40 years, had a beautiful daughter, and moved into their dream house in York County Virginia just two years prior. So what happened between this seemingly perfect couple that resulted in the murder and dismemberment of Joanne Roth?
On Valentine’s Day of 2005 Archie Roth, Jr., and his daughter reported 66-year-old wife and mother, Joanne Roth, missing. Investigators met with her husband the following day and after a cursory interrogation, obtained a warrant to search the Roth home. It was during the search that police located what they believed to be the partial remains of Joanne Roth. Further investigation led the police to a nearby dumpster where they located more of the missing woman’s body
The autopsy of her body indicated that Mrs. Roth died as a result of decapitation from a blunt force head trauma. It was eventually determined that a shovel was used to bludgeon the woman to death. Then, an electric chainsaw, recovered at the scene of the crime, was used to dismember her body, some of which was disposed of in a nearby construction site trash bin in the Wythe Creek Farms neighborhood of York County.
Archie Roth, Joanne’s husband, was taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder. After intense questioning, he confessed to his wife’s murder. Although he would not give police a definitive reason for the crime, he admitted that the couple had faught the night before. Speculation regarding what might have triggered the fatal even abounded but it was theorized that the murder was likely domestic in nature. Joanne had been involved in an accident in the 1980’s and, as a aresult, had suffered brain damage that had left her with the mental capacity of a six-year-old. This meant that she was often incapable of caring for herself. Many speculated that Roth just could no longer handle the stress of caring for his fragile elderly wife. Coupled with his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, some believed that Roth was not in his right mind at the time of the murder.
Roth, who submitted to a psychiatric evaluation, was found to be incompetent to stand trial for the slaying. However, forensic psychologists who testified at his initial competency hearing disagreed with regard to the level of his illness. The one thing on which they could agree was that Roth was obviously suffering from some form of dementia as well as Alzheimer’s. Two additional psychologists were brought in to consult, stating in December of 2005, that they believed Roth was exaggerating his symptoms. One went so far as to claim that he appeared to be exaggerating his condition. He claimed that Roth acted differently when he was alone than he did when he knew he was being watched. He cited several instances when Roth appeared to act normally by conversing with the staff and shooting hoops with other patients, then feigning confusion once again when questioned about his actions. However, another doctor brought in from Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, disagreed. He reported that he could find no evidence of exaggeration on Roth’s part. He further noted that Roth struggled to articulate his feelings and that he had a great amount of difficulty interpreting things. He went on to testify that Roth was unable to take part in even the most basic of trial functions; expressing concern that the man would be unable to assist in his own defense.
Circuit Court Judge, Prentis Smiley, sided with the defense finding Roth incompetent to stand trial in his wife’s death. He was confined to the maximum-security mental facility for treatment to see whether or not doctors could restore his mental capacity.
On January 26, 2007, Roth was once again brought before the judge for competency review. He looked about the courtroom throughout the proceeding but never spoke nor made any indication that he was aware of what was taking place. His attorney’s asserted that Roth was still gravely ill and remained incompetent to stand trial. Prosecutors painted a very different picture. Theirs was one of a man who was doing his best to avoid standing trial or imprisonment. They were upset with the incomplete reports obtained from Eastern State Hospital (Williamsburg, Virginia), where Roth was being held, claiming that no information was available concerning the type and scope of Roth’s treatment. They went on to state that they not been notified as to whether the doctor’s were making any progress with regard to restoring the man’s competency. They expressed frustration over the fact that officials had chosen to disregard other doctors’ findings which suggested that Roth might be faking or exaggerating his condition.
York County Judge Prentis Smiley, once again, declared the now 69-year-old man incapable of assisting with his defense quoting that state law on the matter is quite clear. The law declares a person incompetent to stand trial if he or she lacks the capacity to understand the charges against him/her or cannot assist in his or her own defense.
Roth’s case will be reviewed again in six months. If he his mental capacity is still deemed unable to be restored, the judge must determine whether to release him or commit him to a mental health facility. According to Virginia law, if Roth continues to be deemed incompetent for five years – – from the date of his arrest – – then all charges against him must be dropped. That means that a formal decision, one way or the other, must on or about February 14, 2010.