The former head of The Montessori School of Raleigh, Nancy Errichetti, will head to trial later this year for her role in a sex abuse scandal at the school after pleading not guilty and rejecting a plea deal from the state. The family of the victims and the state contend Errichetti knew a teacher at the school behaved sexually inappropriately toward a female student but refused to act, resulting in the subsequent molestation of the girl’s sister.
The teacher, Nicholas Smith, was sentenced last summer to serve 17 years in prison for sexually abusing the sisters. As detailed in a lengthy INDY investigation, Smith groomed the first victim–referred to in court as Jane Doe I–beginning when she was a 12-year-old seventh-grader at the school. Over time, this escalated to sending sexually explicit text messages and rape. A staff member at the school observed Smith entering the hotel rooms of teenage girls late at night on school trips and other inappropriate behavior, which she alerted Errichetti to via email.
After Jane Doe I graduated, Smith began making sexual advances toward her younger sister–Jane Doe II–who was also a student at the school, including grabbing her breasts and buttocks and attempting to kiss her.
“You destructured parts of me that will never be able to fully heal,” Jane Doe I said in court.
The victims believe abuse against Jane Doe II would have never occurred if Errichetti hadn’t turned a blind eye to Smith’s behavior with Jane Doe I.
After learning Smith had behaved inappropriately with students at the school, Errichetti issued two behavioral plans–in 2012 and 2016, respectively–to curtail his behavior. But he was never formally disciplined. The extent of her knowledge of Smith’s behavior is unclear, and whether or not her failure to notify police of Smith’s conduct rises to the level of “aiding and abetting” the molestation of the second victim will be the state’s burden to prove at trial.
The family of the victims gathered in court Monday to await news on Errichetti’s case. In a statement from their lawyer, Robert Jessup, the family said they were “disappointed–though not surprised–that Ms. Errichetti continues to refuse to accept any responsibility for her conduct that resulted in childhood sexual molestation and abuse.”
“Although the process has been long and arduous, the victims could not be happier with the District Attorney’s Office and Court System, and they look forward to Ms. Errichetti’s criminal trial this summer or fall,” Jessup told the INDY. “The victims remain optimistic about the next steps, and they are hopeful that by the year’s end, Errichetti will be convicted for her indicted crimes.”
Errichetti, a thin woman with a shock of blond hair, declined to comment in court when approached by the INDY. A statement from her lawyers claimed she is “100 percent innocent” and called the felony charges “unprecedented.”
“Nancy Errichetti did not know about nor would she ever aid in the abuse of a child,” according to a written statement handed to the INDY by Errichetti’s defense. “There is no evidence that she knew or intended to aid in the abuse of a child.”
The statement goes on to call the charges a “dangerous extension of the criminal law” that should “strike terror into the hearts and minds” of North Carolinians.
“This case was a travesty of justice three years ago when she was charged, and it still is today,” it continued. “We are confident that when her case goes to trial she will be thoroughly and completely exonerated.”
While it is unclear from the public record if Errichetti knew Smith raped Jane Doe I, there is evidence that she was aware he had inappropriately touched her sister, according to a 2016 email from the victim’s family who threatened to withdraw her from the school if actions were not taken to protect their daughter.
The email from the family states: “Mr. Smith has called her away from classwork to ask about how she feels about him, and why she doesn’t like him. She states that she feels like ‘his eyes undress me’ and is ‘creeped out by him.”
“[When] she referred to being touched ‘multiple times’ one day at school by him, she is referring to him repeatedly putting his hand on her shoulder, arm, and thigh while trying to have unwanted non-academic conversations with her,” the email continued.
The school defended Errichetti following a lawsuit from the victim’s family and Smith’s arrest in November 2017. She continued to head the school at a $200,000 salary until her arrest in May 2018, when she was charged with one count of aiding and abetting the taking of indecent liberties against a child under the age of 16 and one count of contributing to the delinquency and neglect of a minor.
Following Errichetti’s arrest, school leaders claimed Errichetti had no knowledge of the sisters’ abuse when she placed Smith on the two behavioral plans. Errichetti was later placed on paid leave. It’s unclear if she was ever terminated or continues to remain on the payroll. Monica Rodriguez now serves as head of the school.
Rodriguez could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
Errichetti was offered a plea deal if she agreed to plead guilty to one count of contributing to the delinquency of a child, but she rejected that offer in court Monday. After a full reading of the indictment against her which stated, “the defendant as headmaster was in a position to act and refused to do so,” resulting in the abuse of Jane Doe II, a soft-spoken Errichetti plead not guilty to both charges.
Errichetti’s trial will likely be scheduled for later this year and should take about three weeks, court officials noted.
Follow writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to email@example.com.
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