Former Litchfield principal ruled competent to stand trial in alleged theft of $150,000
NASHUA – While former Litchfield elementary school principal Shannon Dannible may “struggle” or have “difficulty” at times dealing with her symptoms of major depression and severe anxiety, she is nonetheless “able to gather herself … when needed” and is therefore competent to stand trial in her $152,000 embezzlement case, a judge has ruled.
The 27-page ruling, handed down late Wednesday by Hillsborough County Superior Court South Judge Jacalyn Colburn, represents a significant step forward in a now 4 1/2-year-old case rife with postponements, cancelations and continuances.
Dannible, who turns 41 this month, was indicted in August 2013 on one felony count of theft, accusing her of stealing roughly $152,000 from St. Francis of Assisi, a private Catholic elementary school in Litchfield, while she was principal from 2007-2011.
The prosecution, represented by Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Agati, alleges Dannible took the money over a period of time by writing herself checks on, and withdrawing cash from, the school’s accounts “to pay her personal debts.”
Documents note that “despite the fact that the alleged embezzlement took place over a period of years, (Dannible) claims to have no memory of it.”
An audit discovered the alleged thefts in 2011, and Dannible was subsequently terminated.
The case now returns to the court docket to await the scheduling of the next court date, which will be a status conference, according to Colburn’s order.
The issue of Dannible’s competency as it pertains to the legal standard for her ability to consult with, and assist, her attorneys in her defense has been central to the case for more than two years.
Nashua Attorney Roger “Rusty” Chadwick, who is representing Dannible with Attorney Joe Fricano, said Thursday that Colburn’s ruling was “very thorough” and knew “it was a close call” on which way she would rule.
“We’re not surprised … either way, it’s a very close ball,” Chadwick said. “Now that (Dannible) has been ruled competent, our goal is to proceed with the case.”
But there’s also little doubt Dannible “has very significant mental health issues. No one is disputing that,” Chadwick said.
“By all accounts, our client is struggling with these issues on a daily basis.”
This week’s order is the second that Colburn has handed down regarding Dannible’s competency status.
In June 2016, following a series of hearings, Colburn ruled Dannible incompetent to stand trial, but also restorable, meaning there was a “reasonable likelihood” she could be restored to competency if she received proper treatment.
Colburn focused on whether Dannible had the ability to “communicate meaningfully with her attorneys … regarding trial strategy” and was “sufficiently coherent” to convey necessary information to them, she wrote at the time.
Once the one-year restorability period passed, the parties resumed filing motions and attending hearings, this time on the question of whether Dannible had been restored to competency.
In the meantime, prosecutors had come upon new evidence to support their position that Dannible was at least exaggerating, if not feigning, her symptoms in order to avoid the possibility of a lengthy State Prison sentence.
They revealed that Dannible, despite telling her therapists and others that her mental health issues, especially her anxiety, made it nearly impossible for her to interact with others or take part in everyday events, had been appearing on Facebook videos promoting her online cosmetic-
“In the videos, the defendant is simply not the same person as the court has observed during the various hearings in this matter,” Colburn wrote in the order.
“There are no signs of severe anxiety or excessive fidgiting … (Dannible) appears to be a composed, smart and energetic saleswoman.”
Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Telegraph_DeanS.