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Judge denies woman's release

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Melinda Sallie Early

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Concerned Wetsel cites mental health issues, living arrangements at hearing

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A lack of mental health services put a local inmate and the courts in a tough position, a judge said Friday.

Melinda Sallie Early, 49, appeared in Winchester Circuit Court with her attorney, William A. "Beau" Bassler, on a defense request for her release from incarceration. Early remains jailed at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center for an alleged violation of her probation.

However, Judge John E. Wetsel Jr. and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Derek Aston expressed concerns over where Early would stay if released on bond.

After testimony given by Early and her fiance, Charles Woodson, of 335 N. Loudoun St., Apt. 2C, Winchester, the judge ordered the probationer to undergo a mental health evaluation by a professional psychologist. Wetsel scheduled a hearing for May 20 to review of the evaluation.

The judge noted the state lacks services for mentally ill inmates.
"We don't have any facilities," Wetsel said.

Denying Early release effectively punishes his client for her mental illness, according to the defense attorney.

"We would not be sitting here if not for her mental health problem," Bassler said. "I don't feel it's appropriate to punish her for having mental health problems."

Bassler noted his client, who was homeless, has spent the past four months in jail for a probation violation.

"That's why I kept her in jail," Wetsel said.

Early has attempted suicide at least five times while incarcerated at the jail, she testified. The probationer also said she has been on various medications since she was 16 years old. Early said she did not feel being admitted to Western State Hospital, as Aston and Wetsel suggested, would help her.

Woodson testified that Early could live with him in his apartment. But Woodson testified he has been hospitalized at least three times in as many months for mental health problems, a fact to which Wetsel referred when the judge denied allowing her release to live with her fiance.

Woodson served two months of a six-month jail sentence for committing cruelty to animals in Warren County in February 2010. Authorities charged Woodson with the misdemeanor after he skinned and made a head ornament out of a guinea pig. Aston brought up the conviction during questioning, and Woodson responded by saying he treated the animal "as humanely" as possible when committing the act.

Early, who served jail time for trying to rob a bank teller Oct. 20, 2008, at the BB&T branch on North Cameron Street, has begun the process to become Catholic, according to Bassler. Questions were raised as to whether the Catholic Church could help Early find a place to live and make sure she receives treatment for her illness.

"She has to be some place where she has access to competent psychiatric services," Wetsel said.

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