Dannible sent to prison; must repay $152,000

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Shannon Dannible tearfully listens as her lawyer, Attorney Roger Chadwick, addresses the court Wednesday during Dannible's plea and sentencing hearing on allegations she stole $152,000 from a Litchfield school of which she was principal. She was sentenced to a minumum of 1 1/2 years in State Prison

NASHUA – Litchfield resident Olga McSorley entered Hillsborough County Superior Court-South Wednesday morning hoping to find a way to forgive Shannon Dannible, who was principal of tiny St. Francis of Assisi school when two of McSorley’s children attended.

“I wanted to come here with empathy, for Shannon and her family,” McSorley said after the three-hour hearing that culminated in Dannible, 41, being sent to New Hampshire State Prison for Women for at least one and a half years.

Many observers on both sides of the case, which began with an August 2013 indictment against Dannible for stealing more than $152,000 from the school while principal, echoed McSorley’s sentiments, finding themselves caught between trying to summon empathy for a wife, mother and career educator with a history of mental health issues, and hoping she faces stiff consequences for engaging in a “premeditated,” “deliberate” scheme to embezzle funds from the school and leave it on the edge of bankruptcy.

Among them was Judge Jacalyn Colburn, who told a trembling Dannible that she would “be doing a disservice” if she adopted attorney Roger “Rusty” Chadwick’s recommendation that his client serve no prison time.

Instead, Colburn shaved one year off the 2.5-year minimum sentence recommended by prosecutors, leaving Dannible to serve a minimum of one and a half years in prison.

The sentence is 1.5-15 years. Time beyond the 1.5-year minimum would be imposed only if Dannible violates any of the terms included in the full sentencing order.

Chief among the terms is that she begin paying a minimum of $100 per month toward restitution, beginning 90 days after she is released from prison.

She also must purchase a life insurance plan and maintain it until restitution is paid in full. The policy must name the school as the beneficiary, according to the sentencing order.

Other terms order Dannible to put all of her income tax refunds toward restitution until it is paid in full, and that she must provide the state with copies of her yearly tax filings.

The sides also agree that Dannible must obtain counseling and rehabilitation as recommended by mental health providers, and that she sign a waiver of extradition.

Dannible entered a plea of “nolo,” or “no contest,” to the charge, which means she is not contesting the evidence in the charge against her.

Chadwick said Dannible was pleading no contest “because she has no memory” of committing the thefts.

Close to 20 people, including Dannible’s husband, Peter, her parents, current and former co-workers, and employers and friends nearly filled one side of the gallery for Wednesday’s hearing.

Although Peter Dannible was the only one in the group to address the court, the others reflected various levels of emotion, with several shedding tears at various junctures.

The longest statement the court heard Wednesday was delivered by Dannible herself, who began by offering “sincere apologies … I can’t erase the damage that’s been done. All I can do is pay it back,” she said, her voice breaking from time to time.

Speaking rapidly, Dannible traced a childhood in which she “didn’t fit in … always felt dirty.” She then went on to topics such as the priest sexual abuse scandal and the more recent movement to empower girls and women who are fearful of coming forward with their stories of abuse.

She suggested a jail or prison sentence would “revictimize” people who, like her, have suffered trauma or been diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses.

Colburn, when later imposing sentence, referred to those comments, assuring Dannible that she does in fact understand that trauma and mental illness are “real things,” and that she believes mental illness exists, “and it exists in you.”

And while “it’s certainly not my intention to revictimize you,” Colburn said, “you need to be held accountable.

“My hope is that when this is all said and done, you will stop seeing yourself as a victim, and start seeing yourself as a survivor,” Colburn said.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, or, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.