MANCHESTER, NH – A former elementary school principal is facing an additional felony charge of falsifying physical evidence related to an incident two years ago in which police say she faked a burglary at her North End home.
Former Webster Elementary School Principal Sarah Lynch, 42, of 102 North Adams St., was indicted by a grand jury sitting in Hillsborough County Superior Court Northern District earlier this month on one charge of falsifying physical evidence. She is accused of creating a false crime scene on Jan. 13, 2019, in her home to deceive Manchester police.
Lynch was terminated as principal in late 2018 for improper use of school funds and failure to follow the hiring protocol, according to court documents.
Lynch originally faced two counts of falsifying physical evidence and two counts of filing a false report to law enforcement. According to court records, on Jan. 23, 2019, police went to Lynch’s home about 11:20 a.m. after she called 911 to report she fought off a burglar.
Police converged on the neighborhood in search of the assailant.
According to the defense, a neighbor had a Ring system (a video camera-equipped Wi-Fi-enabled doorbell and security system) that showed a man walking toward’s Lynch’s house at a time consistent with the 911 call. Another neighbor also called detectives to say he saw a car leaving the area at a high rate of speed, again at a time consistent with the 911 call.
Police, however, said Lynch suggested the burglar used a rock to break the glass on the front door. Detectives said the damage is more consistent with a baseball bat and that they found an aluminum bat in her office.
Investigators also didn’t find any blood at the scene and, they said, video surveillance systems in the neighborhood that recorded the street and front steps to Lynch’s house did not record an intruder.
In an Aug. 10, 2021 court order, Judge N. William Delker denied the defense’s motion to suppress statements Lynch made to investigators because, she argued, she was not read her Miranda Rights.
Detectives on Jan. 31, 2019, asked Lynch to come to the police station to help identify a suspect. That was a ruse and when Lynch arrived she was met by Detective Scott Ardita who led her to an interview room where they met Detective Brian O’Leary.
Ardita told Lynch she was not under arrest and free to leave at any time. He said they discovered some inconsistencies in her statements and explained they obtained video footage from the day of the alleged burglary which showed no one entering or leaving her house on the day of the alleged burglary. Ardita said he was giving her the opportunity to tell him what really happened.
Delker, in his order, said Lynch appeared flustered but said she told him everything she knew. She insisted she did not break the glass in the door and that she was not fabricating the story.
Ardita told her the only people at her house were her and the police.
Lynch said she was afraid, in talking with them, that she was going to “make myself sound like a mental case.” She explained that day she felt manic and extremely happy but as she recounted that to the detectives she began to cry.
Ardita told her there was no evidence to support what she said, including any marks on her body indicating she fought off a burglar.
The description she gave of her assailant matched what she was wearing that day, Ardita pointed out. He said to try to make her story believable, she pulled information from her surroundings. A man, the detective told Lynch, never came into her house.
O’Leary asked her how she felt about the video evidence showing inconsistencies in her statements and Lynch said it made her fell “like a psycho” and “like a fucking idiot,” but insisted the break-in did happen.
“You’re furthering this own delusion that you have that this happened, when there is no other reason other than you thought it may have happened,” Ardita told her.
Ardita accused Lynch of fabricating the story to get attention. He said she told her 5-year-old son that she broke the glass. She said she brought the baseball bat downstairs because of a noise she heard. He asked her why lie and she said, “I don’t know.” He said that’s something his five-year-old would say. “You are an adult,” Ardita said. “Good, fine I guess I’m having a mental fucking breakdown,” Lynch said.
Later, Lynch said if she did it, “it was a mistake. If I did it, then it was—that’s messed up.” She said she makes mistakes all the time. “So this was a mistake?” Ardita asked. “It was a huge mistake,” she said. Lynch was visibly upset and crying.
The defense wanted the statements about a “mistake” suppressed.
Delker said police did not have to read Lynch her Miranda Rights because she was not under arrest and free to leave at any time.
In the interview, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, Delker said detectives never accused Lynch of committing a crime or asserted she was guilty of violating the law. Instead, he said, their statements centered on the premise that Lynch was not being truthful, a distinction that is critical under the law.
He also said there was nothing to indicate the detectives intended to arrest her had she admitted to lying.
Lynch contended the confession was involuntary because the detectives used their knowledge of her memory issues to undercut her understanding and induce her into believing she was insane.
“Specifically, the defendant asserts the Detective Ardita was gaslighting her,” Delker wrote.
He said the New Hampshire Supreme Court has held that “mental illness does not, as a matter of law, render a confession involuntary.”
He said though Lynch at times was distressed, she was able to recover her composure quickly and provide coherent answers and responses to detectives’ questions.
“Moreover, while the defendant repeated the alleged burglary was real and Detective Ardita consistently stated that the story was fabricated, Detective Ardita’s continued assertions were not an effort to induce the defendant into believing she was insane, but rather efforts to inquire about inconsistencies in the evidence. Such questions did not amount to coercive action by police that overcame the defendant’s will,” Delker wrote.
Delker ruled that based on the totality of the circumstances, Lynch’s statements were the product of a “free and unconstrained choice” and denied the motion to suppress.
Jury selection is set for Nov. 1, 2021.
If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health issues, crisis services are available through Manchester Mental Health Center.