Celina Cass
AP Photo/Don Whipple

Wendell Noyes had been charged with second-degree murder in 2011 death of 11-year-old Celina Cass

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March 02, 2017 11:34 AM

Charges against a New Hampshire man accused of killing his 11-year-old stepdaughter and dumping her body in the Connecticut River weighed down with a sandbag have been dismissed after a judge declared that he was mentally ill and not competent to be tried.

Wendell Noyes still could face charges in the death of Celina Cass. Prosecutors still say Noyes killed her because he allegedly believed he had gotten her pregnant and needed to “get rid of her,” according to a newly released arrest affidavit obtained by PEOPLE.

But for now, both the prosecutor and Noyes’ defense attorney agree that a mental health hospital is the best place for Noyes to be.

Noyes has denied involvement in the death of Cass, who was last seen the night of July 25, 2011, at the West Stewartson apartment she shared with Noyes, her mother, her older sister, and a family friend. Her body, wrapped in a blue comforter and plaid blanket, was discovered seven days later submerged in the river about a half-mile from her home.

“It would be a miracle if somehow he became competent in general; he’s a sick man,” Noyes’ defense attorney Justin Shepherd tells PEOPLE. “It’s not something he’s making up or feigning to get out of a murder charge. He’s sick in terms of suffering from mental illness.”

Shepherd identified the illness as schizophrenia.

Wendell Noyes
AP Photo/Jim Cole

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Noyes’ competency evaluation — which was accepted Monday by Lancaster District Court Judge Paul Desjardins —  indicates he can’t assist in his own defense, leaving the state no choice for now but to dismiss the second-degree murder charge against him, Assistant State’s Attorney Jane Young tells PEOPLE.

“Should he become competent during his lifetime, the state will re-institute the charges against him,” Young says.

Noyes is hospitalized at the New Hampshire Hospital, where he was arrested last June. He previously had been involuntarily committed in 2003 to the mental heath facility for schizophrenia and arrested for threatening an ex-girlfriend.

In 2015, he was involuntarily committed again for up to five years, according to court records. He now will undergo continued evaluation and possible extension of that involuntary commitment, Young says.

“Quite frankly,” says Shepherd, “that’s the humane place for him to be.”

Alleged Jailhouse Confession

Prosecutors said in documents released after Monday’s competency hearing that Noyes had told others about his role in the alleged crime. The 37-page arrest affidavit notes the victim’s body had abrasions “consistent with sexual penetration,” according to an autopsy finding, and summarizes statements from a man who spent time with Noyes in Coos County Jail. That man, Zachariah Dambrosia-Shaw, “straight up asked” Noyes if he killed Cass.

“Wendell Noyes reportedly admitted having sex with Celina Cass and thought she became pregnant,” states the affidavit. “Wendell Noyes allegedly said, he had choked her while she was in her bed, then wrapped her in blankets or sheets, and dumped [her] in the river.”

The affidavit continues: “Wendell Noyes also reportedly said there was another person involved with this murder. Zachariah Dambrosia-Shaw said he was not sure of the name, but thinks it could have been a man named Steve. This other man was also reportedly having sex with Celina Cass. Because Wendell Noyes and this other man believed Celina Cass was pregnant, they had to get rid of her.”

According to Shepherd, “There’s just a lot of different possible suspects, a lot of different possible scenarios.”

He raised questions about the then-22-year-old, Kevin Mullaney, who lived with the family at the time of Celina’s disappearance. A motion to dismiss the case against Noyes describes Mullaney by saying he “would later fail a polygraph examination and whose semen stained shorts were found in Celina’s hamper.”

Mullaney, who was never charged in the case, currently is jailed for two to six years after being convicted of receiving stolen property and other charges, reports The Associated Press. It’s not known whether he currently has an attorney.

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“There’s definitely a lot of questions here,” Shepherd says. “I’d welcome them to file charges in this case again, so we can have our day in front of a jury. I’d love to air it out in front of 12 jurors and let all the evidence come out.”

But Young says six years of investigation led only to Noyes.

“The evidence has been examined and re-examined multiple times,” she says. “At this juncture, we do not have any evidence to charge any other individual or individuals beyond Wendell Noyes.”

She adds, “Justice would be that this child was alive and well. We are never able to give the family closure through justice because their loved one is gone.

“Unfortunately, when you have an individual who’s not competent, the Constitution’s pretty clear: They have to be competent in order to be tried.”

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