A Utah woman has pleaded guilty to multiple charges after police say she bought antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the dark web to harm her ailing roommate in an attempt to get custody of the woman’s special-needs son.
Janie Lynn Ridd, 51, was arrested in December 2019 on suspicion of aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, attempted abuse of a vulnerable adult, and attempted possession of a biological agent.
Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Nick Street previously said Ridd gave misleading statements before she was arrested.
Police said Ridd bought Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus for $300 worth of Bitcoin. The agent can cause skin infections, severe invasive diseases, pneumonia and potentially death.
Utah law defines a biological agent of mass destruction as ‘any microorganism, virus, infectious substance, or biological product’ that can cause death, disease or destruction in a human or other living organism.
Third District Judge Kara Pettit on Monday ordered Ridd to serve consecutive sentences of at least one and up to 15 years. It is now up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to determine the exact length of her prison term.
Attorney General Sean Reyes and Assistant Attorney General Michael Gadd recommended that Ridd be denied parole until 2028.
During sentencing, Rachel told the judge that Ridd robbed her of life by causing her severe medical problems and constant stress. She said looking at the defendant, she detected no signs of remorse in her eyes, reported Deseret News.
‘She watched me suffer, and she doubled down and did it worse. Instead of one injection of E. coli where I’d scream and writhe in pain, she did three when that didn’t kill me,’ Rachel said after the hearing.
The two had been friends for more than 20 years and shared a home for a long time, but their relationship began to sour about three years ago.
According to court documents, Ridd, who had been Rachel’s caretaker and also looked after her autistic son, and whom the woman had named a beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy, became upset with her friend’s behavior.
Ridd’s defense attorney Scott Williams argued that Rachel had become increasingly verbally abusive, which took a toll on Ridd’s mental health and convinced her that her roommate posed a threat to the well-being on her own child.
So Ridd tried to incapacitate Rachel so she could obtain legal guardianship of the special-needs boy.
‘The saddest irony is that she ultimately did what she did out of a twisted sense of desperate caring for the well-being of the child she had grown to love and protect,” Williams wrote in the sentencing memorandum. ‘She snapped. She lost control of her thoughts. She essentially went mad.’
According to court records, Ridd would drug Rachel with sedatives, including Xanax and ketamine, so she could then inject her with harmful doses of insulin, or E coli that caused serious infections, reported KUTV.
Between March and October 2019, Rachel underwent two surgeries on her neck. After the first, MRSA infection was discovered in her wound, and after the second, the patient developed three infections, one of which tested positive for E. coli.
Rachel’s surgeon told investigators that the E. coli ‘must have been injected,’ according to court documents.
Between the time of the first procedure and the second, Rachel experienced two separate episodes where her blood sugar level fell to dangerous levels, even though she is not diabetic.
Rachel said that around that time, she and Ridd fought about her will and her son’s guardianship in the event of her death. She also recalled Ridd musing that the best way to get away with murder would be to inject the victim with insulin.
Investigators later found out that Ridd purchased insulin in September 2019 on the dark web.
In December, Ridd went back on the dark web, this time to buy Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA). She pretended to be a prep school biology teacher and claimed she needed the bacteria for a science experiment.
‘When the vendor advised the defendant that VRSA may be obtained for scientific research through more legitimate sources, the defendant continued to pursue the purchase from the vendor, offering to pay overnight shipping to obtain the VRSA faster,’ court document stated.
She had $300 of VRSA shipped to her home address, not knowing that by then law enforcement agents had been tracking her online activity.
On December 17, agents delivered a package with fake VRSA to Ridd. When she was later questioned about the contents of the parcel, Ridd lied that she had ordered coffee online.
She then changed her story, claiming that the package contained a ‘biological which she had ordered online form the dark web to make beer at home in the basement.’
Ridd later offered another version of events, saying she ordered a strain of ‘staph’ for ‘experimental purposes to satisfy a personal curiosity she had stemming from her roommate’s recent exposure to MRSA,’ according to court documents.
Ridd pleaded guilty in June to attempted possession or use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult.
As part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop a charge of aggravated abuse of a disabled or elderly person.