Sister: ‘Broken system led to my mother’s death and brother’s incarceration’

  • Phillip Nash pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Frances Nash. The plea and sentencing hearing was held on Friday in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. Alyssa Dandrea / Monitor staff

  • Michelle Crowley, the daughter of Frances Nash, reads from her victim impact statement outside the Merrimack County Superior Courthouse in Concord on Friday. Alyssa Dandrea Monitor staff

  • Nash Reddy spoke outside the Merrimack County Courthouse in Concord on May 29, 2020, about how New Hampshire’s mental health system failed Phillip Nash. Reddy identified as Phillip’s ‘Aunt Sonya’ and Frances Nash’s close friend. —Alyssa Dandrea/Monitor staff

  • Phillip Nash pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Frances Nash. The plea and sentencing hearing was held on May 29, 2020, in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. —Alyssa Dandrea/Monitor staff

  • Michelle Crowley, the daughter of Frances Nash, reads from her victim inpact statement outside the Merrimack County Superior Courthouse in Concord on May 29, 2020. Crowley’s brother, Phillip Nash, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of their mother. —Alyssa Dandrea/Monitor staff

  • Phillip Nash pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Frances Nash. The plea and sentencing hearing was held on May 29, 2020, in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. —Alyssa Dandrea/Monitor staff

  • Phillip Nash pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Frances Nash. The plea and sentencing hearing was held on May 29, 2020, in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. —Alyssa Dandrea/Monitor staff

  • Phillip Nash pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Frances Nash. The plea and sentencing hearing was held on May 29, 2020, in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. —Alyssa Dandrea/Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/29/2020 4:53:44 PM

Michelle Crowley broke her silence Friday about something that has tormented her for 648 days.

Just beyond the courthouse steps, she spoke about a broken system that she said did nothing to help her brother, Phillip Nash, who has long struggled from mental illness. She said resources weren’t available to her family two years ago, when they needed them most.

Crowley’s mother, Frances Nash, was murdered at age 51 after suffering 21 stab wounds, including defensive injuries, in an attack on May 17, 2018, in Canterbury. On Friday, Frances Nash’s only son admitted to killing his mother. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of second-degree murder.

Phillip Nash, 23, will now spend at  least the next five years in the state’s secure psychiatric unit, located at the men’s prison in Concord. He will be reevaluated every five years and faces the possibility of a life sentence.

“From this moment on, my impact will be to advocate to fix this broken system that led to my mother’s death and brother’s incarceration, in hopes that it could save another life,” Crowley said after the hearing Friday. “Ultimately my mother became a martyr and I will not let her death be in vain, for I will continue to live on with her in my heart.”

Crowley wanted to ask the health care workers, attorneys, law enforcement officers and others gathered at the courthouse to think about what they can do now to help others like her brother from suffering a similar fate. She wanted to ask them to be proactive and not reactive, with the goal of preventing future violent crimes.

Crowley, though, did not get the opportunity to speak Friday morning from inside the courthouse, but her written statement and several others were reviewed in advance by the presiding judge. The high-profile hearing was the first of its kind in Merrimack County Superior Court since the state’s emergency declaration due to COVID-19. It took place under a time restriction and with new social distancing protocols in place.

Judge Richard McNamara said he appreciated that many family members were in attendance, with a couple hoping to verbally address the court.

“But, in light of the inability to have lengthy hearings and in light of the fact that I’m not sure the victim impact statements apply in a case where a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity,” he said, “I think those documents, which I’ve read and which are powerful, will be made part of the (written) record.”

Associate Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, the case’s lead prosecutor, told McNamara that family members preferred to verbally address the court, but understand the hearing was taking place under challenging circumstances.

Anyone who entered the courtroom Friday was required to wear a face mask, including Nash, and to sit six feet apart to help curb viral transmission. The often crowded benches that can normally seat dozens on each side were reserved for just a few people and each seat was marked by blue tape.

Seeing her brother for the first time since February 2018 was a strange experience, Crowley said. She said he looked so different, presumably healthier than two years ago. His behavior had been so unpredictable and scary, and her family had tried to voice that to anyone who would listen, she said.

In court Friday, attorneys agreed that Nash was insane at the time he killed his mother and therefore could not be held criminally responsible.

Not long after the attorney general’s office filed alternative second-degree charges against Nash, attorneys began questioning his mental competency and, in turn, his ability to stand trial. McNamara ruled in fall 2018 that Nash was “currently incompetent, but restorable.” After undergoing mental health treatment for several months, Nash was reevaluated, and McNamara issued a new order, finding that Nash had been “restored” and could stand trial.

However, Nash’s mental state at the time of his mother’s death still remained a key issue. A forensic psychologist ultimately said that the crime was a product of Nash’s mental illness.

“The defendant was criminally insane when he killed his mother,” Strelzin said.

Strelzin explained that Nash suffers from schizophrenia, in addition to an unidentified depressive disorder. Evaluations also found evidence of psychosis, which causes hallucinations.

On the day that Nash killed his mother, he was released from the Rockingham County jail. His father, Kevin Nash, had picked his son up that day and noted that during the car ride Philip said “derogatory things about his mother,” Strelzin summarized for the court. The two traveled from the jail to the public library in Loudon where Frances Nash worked.

He planned to camp for a while on a friend’s property on Hackleboro Road in Canterbury and on May 17, 2018, Frances Nash took her son to Walmart in Concord to get supplies. Surveillance video shows the pair arguing in the store; however, Strelzin said there is no audio so the nature of the disagreement is unknown.

At about 5 p.m., the property owner in Canterbury received word that Phillip and Frances Nash were on their way; Frances had called him, Strelzin said. But the man never saw Frances nor Phillip that day.

Investigators later learned that at 6 o’clock that night, a neighbor helped Phillip Nash in the woods where his mother’s SUV was stuck in the mud and had lost a piece of its undercarriage. The neighbor never noted seeing Frances Nash.

Roughly 100 feet away, police recovered her body four days after the murder. She was found in a swamp, partially covered with a blanket that appeared burned.

Authorities concluded through later forensic testing that Frances Nash, a Chichester resident, was likely in the driver’s seat at the time she was fatally stabbed.

Prosecutors allege Phillip Nash fled south in a stolen vehicle after the murder. He was ultimately arrested in Virginia and has remained in custody ever since.

Family members said Friday that Nash’s arrest was what finally gave him access to critical mental health services. They only wish that those resources had been available sooner.

“The state of New Hampshire should be gravely concerned about two unsettling and not OK moments in this tragedy,” said Nash Reddy, who identified herself as “Aunt Sonya” outside the courthouse after the hearing. 

First, she said, the family repeatedly asked for help and were tuned away.

“To be specific, because Phillip was a 21-year-old adult, no mental health treatment facility would support us with getting him help,” Reddy said. “Secondly, after the worst that could happen happened, for me to know, see and observe the way my undiagnosed nephew was going to be treated – and ultimately was treated – in the New Hampshire jail system.”

David Crowley, Frances Nash’s brother, said he dreads the thought of having to relive this nightmare every five years when Phillip Nash’s custody status is reevaluated. He said he hopes no other family has to experience a similar pain.

“She was kind, considerate, she tried to work with the system,” he said of his sister, “and once again the system let her down.”




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