Murder suspect claimed self-help plan helped her

The Sentinel Newspaper, Carlisle, Pennsylvania/April 5, 2007

JRochelle Laudenslager reported in an online post about a year ago that a self-help process called "The Work" helped her deal with personal issues.

The Work teaches people to examine their beliefs about how life should be and to realize they can embrace a reality that may never meet their expectations, according to its founder, Byron Kathleen Mitchell [also known as Byron Katie].

But The Work didn't solve all of Laudenslager's problems. She was scheduled for formal arraignment this morning in Perry County Court in connection with the December 2006 shooting death of her ex-lover, Elaine Pierson, of Rye Township.

Her defense attorney, George Matangos, can have her enter a plea at that hearing, and District Attorney Chad Chenot can declare what grade of homicide he will pursue and whether he'll seek the death penalty.

Laudenslager, of Lower Paxton Township, wrote on The Work's online network in April 2006 that she had attended an intensive weekend session with Mitchell and later used Mitchell's inquiry process to coach employees at Highmark in East Pennsboro Township, where Laudenslager was director of western regional professional services.

Laudenslager, 45, said in her online profile that The Work helped her deal with "family issues, health issues, relationship issues, success and failure, weight, diet or body image and work place issues."

She expressed interest in "doing The Work with others as a volunteer facilitator" on the phone or in person - an offer that Mitchell says she doesn't endorse for anyone on the Web network.

"The Work continues to reveal all answers/wisdom within - working with the true self, not against," Laudenslager wrote. "As my mind continues to meet itself with understanding, open to seeing alternatives, I notice how a false belief gradually holds less power, unravels and falls away."

Mitchell doesn't endorse or check out the profiles on the online network, she adds: "Anyone could put their names up there."

Matangos, however, confirms that the posting was made by Laudenslager.

Mitchell says she has seen people freed from years of anger and hurt after they have confronted their stressful thoughts with four probing questions (see sidebar).

Her believers stand up in sessions around the globe and read to her their tales of past personal tragedy, their worst fears for the future or their mental anguish over a significant other's failures.

"It's like years of psychology in a moment," Mitchell says. But she makes no claims to be a psychologist.

Years of depression and a night on the floor of a halfway house in 1986 led the California woman to discover her inner peace, which developed into The Work. Now Mitchell - everyone calls her "Katie" - is a public speaker and author.

She leads weekend workshops and nine-day "School for The Work" sessions that costs more than $4,000. A three-day "intensive" session costs at least $400.

Mitchell estimates The Work has now reached millions of people in 30 countries, from young children to hardened prisoners.

She has brought The Work to lifers at San Quentin prison in California for free.

"When I hear what they were believing (before they murdered someone), anyone would have done the same thing," she said.

"This woman is guilty of believing her thoughts, and another woman is dead," she says of Laudenslager.

Laudenslager's actions don't jive with the lasting inner peace that Mitchell says her process brings to those who practice its "inquiry" every time a disturbing thought surfaces.

Mitchell says The Work can heal mental illness. Those who see the truth can never return to their former lives of anger or despair, she insists.

So what went wrong with Laudenslager?

"I would say she got off to a good start and it just wasn't enough," Mitchell says. "It takes work. I don't call it 'The Work' for nothing."

Treated for depression

In October, a few months after Laudenslager discovered The Work and wrote about how much it helped her, she was discharged from the Carson-Tahoe mental health facility in Nevada, where her sister said Laudenslager was being treated for depression and a sleep disorder, according to a police report filed by the Reno Police Department.

On Oct. 15, police say Laudenslager smacked her sister, Carol Koletar McMillan, in the head with a frying pan in Reno, Nev., while the woman slept in bed at 5:30 a.m.

McMillan awoke and went to the bathroom to check on her injuries, she told police. Then she went to look at a chair in her bedroom where Laudenslager had hidden something among a pile of clothes.

Laudenslager "quickly went to get the object, and we struggled a bit, but I let her take it and she went downstairs with it and I did not follow," McMillan wrote in a statement to police after the incident. "I was scared."

McMillan called her daughter and told police she was afraid calling 911 might "lead to further attacks," police said in a report.

Laudenslager contended she didn't hit her sister but went to check on her after she heard McMillan scream. Laudenslager also said the two garage doors were open after the attack. Police say the doors were closed when they arrived 20 minutes later.

The misdemeanor domestic battery charge was dropped because Laudenslager was ruled incompetent with "numerous psychiatric issues" during the incident, authorities said in a court disposition.

Just 10 weeks later, police in Perry County say Laudenslager fatally shot her ex-lover after taking Elaine Pierson from Pierson's home on Trout Lane. Pierson's body was found in a wooded area off Lamb's Gap Road Jan. 5.

State police say Pierson told a friend she feared Laudenslager after the attack on McMillan. Laudenslager called Pierson from the Nevada jail and asked for bail money, but Pierson refused, the friend told police.

Laudenslager told police before her arrest that she wanted to re-establish a romantic relationship with Pierson, but Pierson was involved with another woman, so that wasn't possible.

Laudenslager pleads guilty to killing former lover

The Patriot News/February 6, 2008

By Joe Elias

Rochelle Laudenslager pleaded no contest to third-degree murder this morning in the shooting death of her former lover, Elaine Pierson.

Appearing in Perry County Court, Laudenslager also pleaded no contest to aggravated assault in the knifing of a state police trooper when she was arrested a year ago.

Under terms of a plea agreement, she is to serve 20 to 40 years on the murder charge and 10 to 20 years on the assault charge, consecutively. She is scheduled to be sentenced on March 4.

Laudenslager, 45, of the 6200 block of Spring Knoll Drive, Lower Paxton Twp., had pleaded not guilty in April to charges of first-degree homicide, burglary and kidnapping in the death of Pierson, 48, of Rye Twp.

Pierson 's body was found Jan. 6, 2007, on the Perry County side of Blue Mountain in Rye Twp. She had been reported missing by friends about a week earlier and was last seen Dec. 27, 2006.

Laudenslager was arrested Feb. 15 and had been held without bail in Cumberland County Prison.

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