Accused Vail Valley murderer Leigha Ackerson to get psychiatric exam in state prison mental hospital |

Accused Vail Valley murderer Leigha Ackerson to get psychiatric exam in state prison mental hospital

EAGLE — A woman accused of helping murder an Edwards woman in her home has suffered a lifetime of domestic abuse, her attorneys say.

Leigha Ackerson's defense attorneys filed a motion bringing into question Ackerson's mental condition when she and husband Jacob White broke into Catherine Kelley's Pilgrim Downs home, robbed and murdered her, crimes to which White pleaded guilty last month.

Attorneys Amber St. Clair and Jennifer Melton asked District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman to order Ackerson to the state prison psychiatric hospital in Pueblo for an evaluation.

Dunkelman granted that request, noting that Ackerson has not changed her plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. However, the judge did vacate Ackerson's Jan. 7, 2019, trial date.

Ackerson faces eight felonies, including first-degree murder. If she's convicted, she will go to prison for life.

Isolated Ackerson

Ackerson was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household and was home-schooled, St. Clair said during a hearing Thursday morning, Oct. 4. That created a sense of isolation in the young woman, St. Clair said.

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She married White, and the abuse continued, St. Clair said.

"She essentially went from one abusive relationship to another," St. Clair said.

St. Clair and Melton asserted that Ackerson was a domestic violence victim and that she became a battered spouse after she married White and the abuse escalated.

"She was under White's abusive control," St. Clair said.

Ackerson's mental condition led to her compliance in entering Kelley's home and to "be susceptible to him," St. Clair said.

A psychiatrist told the defense attorneys on Monday, Sept. 3, about Ackerson's mental and emotional condition, St. Clair said.

By agreeing to the mental evaluation in Pueblo, Ackerson waived her right to a speedy trial. She signed a five-page document affirming that decision.

Ackerson then responded with "Yes, your honor" or "No, your honor" to dozens of questions from Dunkelman to affirm that she understood what she was doing.

White pleaded guilty

White admitted last month that he helped kill Kelley in her Pilgrim Downs home. He will spend 68 years in prison, although Kelley's family argued passionately that it's not enough and that White deserves a life sentence.

White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary, telling Dunkelman and Kelley's family members that he "hates" what he did.

During his plea and sentencing hearing, White read a long statement outlining what he and Ackerson did before, during and after they entered Kelley's home.

Because he's guilty of crimes of violence, he must serve at least 75 percent of his sentence. That means he will not be eligible for parole for 51 years.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and