WINCHESTER — A woman who prosecutors suspected was faking mental illness has been deemed competent to stand trial for allegedly helping conceal a homicide victim's body.

Clara Ann Perdue, 37, is scheduled to either stand trial or enter a plea on Oct. 21 in Frederick County Circuit Court.

Perdue, who is being held without bond in the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, is accused of helping Larry Lee Mullenax III hide the body of 22-year-old Sarah Curran after Mullenax beat, choked and stabbed her to death on July 16, 2020.

Mullenax, 26, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on March 30 in Frederick County Circuit Court. According to the terms of a plea agreement, he faces up to 50 years in prison. A pre-sentencing report is currently being prepared and scheduled to be presented in court on Sept. 28.

Court documents state that Mullenax, Perdue and Curran were living in tents at a homeless encampment off Baker Lane at the time of the crime. Mullenax was reportedly dating Perdue but had previously been in a relationship with Curran.

Perdue allegedly told police that Mullenax and Curran got into an argument on July 16, 2020, before Mullenax choked her and tried to drown her in a liquid-filled cooler. After determining Curran was still alive, Mullenax stabbed her multiple times in the chest and side, then struck her in the head with a rock. An autopsy determined the bludgeoning was the cause of death.

A search warrant affidavit states that Perdue told investigators that Mullenax had discussed "getting rid of" Curran several weeks before the murder occurred at the homeless encampment.

Perdue is accused of helping Mullenax put Curran's body in a sleeping bag, covering it with a tent and hiding it near the encampment. Curran's remains were found one week later, on July 23, 2020, by Frederick County Sheriff's Office deputies who had been searching for her since a friend reported her missing.

Perdue was arrested on Aug. 7, 2020, and ordered held without bond.

According to court records, psychologist April M. Szilagyi evaluated Perdue and said she was mentally incompetent to stand trial. However, a second psychologist, William McKenna, concluded that Perdue was a malingerer, a legal term for a defendant who fakes mental illness to avoid prosecution.

On March 23, Frederick County Circuit Court Judge William Warner Eldridge IV ruled that Perdue was incompetent to stand trial but said he suspected she was not being truthful about her mental status. Eldridge ordered Perdue to be treated in a state mental hospital, then returned to court for a status hearing.

That hearing took place on Tuesday morning. Perdue, wearing a blue jumpsuit from the local jail, remained silent as Eldridge said the hospital confirmed she was a malingerer. The judge set a tentative trial date of Oct. 21.

In Virginia, concealing a dead body is a Class 6 felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(1) comment

WINCBEST

Have never understood our court systems. We have hired many Judges and expanded the court room system costing taxpayers money and still can't get anyone to trial faster than a year. I would guess we are just another pretty face and no work getting done.

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