Judge sentences former Pembroke Academy dean to jail in drug case

  • Rekha Luther (right), former Pembroke Academy dean of students, was sentenced Monday, March 12, 2018, to three months in jail on felony drug charges. She also received a suspended prison sentence. Alyssa Dandrea / Monitor staff

  • Rekha Luther arrives for her bail hearing at Merrimack County Superior Court on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Rekha Luther, the former Pembroke Academy dean of students charged with bringing heroin into the school, waived her probable cause hearing at Hooksett District Court Monday. Her lawyer, Michael Iacopino (left) waited in court with her. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Monday, March 12, 2018

Rekha Luther recalled vividly in court Monday the first time she shot up heroin, aiming to suppress chronic pain from an underlying health condition that had led her to abuse prescription drugs.

After the first time, she was hooked and the choice to use was no longer her own, she said.

“I didn’t intend to be an addict, your honor,” Luther, 38, of Manchester told Judge Richard McNamara. “There wasn’t one day when I picked up a needle and said, ‘I want to do this for fun.’ I hated myself every time I did it.”

Luther, a former Pembroke Academy dean, was arrested more than two years ago on felony drug charges after authorities found her with fentanyl in her desk and testosterone propionate in her car parked at the high school.

For her crimes, she received a three-month jail sentence, two years probation and suspended prison time of 1½ to five years. She pleaded guilty Monday in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord to charges of possession of a controlled drug and possession of a narcotic drug, both in a school zone. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 to 30 years in prison.

Since Luther’s arrest in February 2016, the case against her took many twists and turns, in part, due to her decision to withdraw from an initial plea deal in favor of a jury trial, and then because of her multiple failures to appear for pretrial hearings in mid-2017.

Those nonappearances were a cry for help, Luther told the court Monday.

“My options were come to court high or come to court sick, and I couldn’t face either option,” she said, adding that she had tried to quit so many times without success. “I didn’t care if I was dead or alive.”

Eight months ago, Luther faced McNamara in an orange jumpsuit and shackles. She had been jailed in summer 2017 for failing to appear for jury selection. But, that 20-day period of incarceration turned out to be a blessing, she said, because it led her on the path to her recovery that has included a 28-day stay at the Phoenix House and an in-home addiction program called Aware Recovery Care of New Hampshire.

Friends and family said Monday that Luther’s return to jail after finally making progress toward her recovery would set her back. While punishment is one of the three prongs the court needs to consider as part of a person’s sentencing, Luther has already been punished enough, her attorney Robin Davis said.

“Given the success of her rehabilitation and where she is at today, I don’t think jail is necessary,” Davis said.

Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Susan Venus disagreed, recommending that McNamara sentence Luther to one year at the county jail. She said that, in making the recommendation, the state focused on mainly deterrence, while also considering punishment and opportunities for a rehabilitative component.

“While some would say this is merely a possession case, the state doesn’t view it that way,” Venus said. “The defendant, being in the position that she was in, owed her students and the community a higher level of responsibility.”

Luther initially told administrators at Pembroke Academy that she had found a small plastic bag containing hypodermic needles in the hallway of the school. She had placed it in her makeup bag, gone into the bathroom to apply her makeup and then returned to her classroom to secure the makeup case in her desk while she went to a meeting. When she returned from the meeting, she found the items missing, and therefore filed a report with the school’s headmaster.

During the police investigation, blue pills, a prescription bottle, a white powdery substance and cigarette filters were found in her desk, as well as additional drugs in a consent search of her vehicle, Venus told the court.

Davis said Luther went to the school’s administration because when her makeup bag turned up missing she feared the drugs contained within it could be in the hands of students, and she was concerned about their safety.

Luther’s report that day led to her own downfall, but it also may have saved her life, family and friends said.

“It’s difficult as a parent to call her phone number in the morning to see if she’s alive,” her father, Neville Pereira, said through tears.

While every day continues to be a challenge, he said, his daughter is making great strides toward a better life. At the same time, the pain of the last two years lingers.

“She made us very proud. She was a brilliant girl,” Pereira said of his daughter, adding, “but this drug came home and took it all away. There is no greater sentence than that.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)