Babysitter accused of kidnapping toddler appears in court

Abigail Hanna
Abigail Hanna –Dina Rudick / Boston Globe

Officials at the secure psychiatric facility where a 21-year-old woman accused of kidnapping and abusing a toddler has been held since November say that she doesn’t need to be there anymore.

Abigail Hanna has been at the Worcester Recovery Center for months as questions of her competency have lingered.

When she arrived in Salem Superior Court Wednesday, she was sent with a letter informing the court that officials there don’t think she requires treatment at Worcester anymore. Instead they recommended she be held in another, secure hospital setting — perhaps at a jail.

Judge Thomas Drechsler set a date of April 25 to decide where Hanna should be held. In the meantime, she will go back to Worcester.

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Using her long blonde hair as a curtain to hide her face, Hanna appeared in court to be arraigned after she was indicted earlier this month by a grand jury. She faces charges of kidnapping, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery on a child, and breaking and entering in the nighttime. The kidnapping charge alone carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Abigail Hanna appears in court on Wednesday.
Abigail Hanna appears in court on Wednesday. —Allison Manning / Boston.com

Her attorney, Susan McNeil, entered a plea of not guilty for her.

Three different experts have examined Hanna to determine her competency. The defense’s expert says she is not competent, while the Worcester Recovery Center expert says she can understand the charges against her and assist in her defense.

The prosecution’s expert hasn’t issued his opinion, but told the lawyers that if the trial against Hanna did go forward, she would need shorter court days and a mental health clinician at the defense table to keep an eye on her, McNeil said.

“I can tell you I had the same difficulties interacting with my client today that I have had all along,” McNeil said.

Worcester officials told the court that Hanna could be held in jail, but “due to self-injurious behavior” should be held in a mental health wing.

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“I find that troubling coming from a facility that is designed to house those with mental health issues,” McNeil said.

Hanna was arrested at her Topsfield home Nov. 21, the day after a toddler she once babysat for went missing from her family home in Hamilton. The girl was discovered hours later by a couple driving along a Rowley roadway. Police said she was naked, with her head shaved and her body covered in road rash and cigarette burns.

Hanna has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, McNeil said, and is on several medications, including an anti-psychotic, mood stabilizers, an anti-depressive, and a sleep aid.

Assistant District Attorney Kristen Buxton said Worcester officials have reported that Hanna may be malingering, or faking her symptoms.

If she is found not competent to stand trial, she could be held for 7 1/2 years, or half the maximum sentence if she were to be found guilty of kidnapping. A judge will hear testimony and decide her competency after a May 18 hearing.

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