By Lisa Redmond
NASHUA, N.H. — An 18-year-old autistic Georgetown man, who is facing kidnapping charges in Massachusetts, pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges in New Hampshire that he assaulted a Hudson police officer who tried to help a 13-year-old Pepperell girl who disappeared with the man on Friday.
In Nashua District Court, Justin Rossi, a student at the Murphy and Dwyer Academy in Chelmsford, shuffled into the courtroom in shackles after being held in custody since Sunday on $10,000 cash bail.
Hudson police prosecutor Kevin Sullivan requested that Rossi’s bail remain at $10,000, arguing that Rossi and a 13-year-old girl fled Massachusetts, crossed state lines into New Hampshire, and were preparing to travel to either Vermont or Maine. He argued that Rossi poses a flight risk because he is also facing charges for kidnapping in Pepperell and there is an active investigation by Dunstable police in connection with other possible charges.
But defense attorney Timothy Bush requested $5,000 cash bail with conditions that if Rossi’s parents post his bail he would not drive and he would abide by a 6 p.m. curfew. Rossi agreed to sign a waiver of rendition to return to Massachusetts to face charges in Ayer District Court.
After the hearing, Judge Thomas Bamberger reduced Rossi’s bail to $7,500 cash or surety with conditions that if Rossi posts bail he is to stay away from the alleged victim, obey a 6 p.m. curfew and have no access to a vehicle.
Pepperell police had been searching for Morton since Friday after she was seen carrying a suitcase accompanied by Rossi on Cross Street. Then the girl’s mother, Bethanne DeStefano, learned that her daughter and Rossi had taken a cab to Southern New Hampshire.
The girl met while Rossi while was spending time at the Murphy and Dwyer Academy, where Rossi is a student. The girl’s grandmother runs the school for children with Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning autism, non-verbal learning disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. Bush said his client suffers from moderate to severe autism.
Pepperell police say that after the girl was reported missing on Friday, Pepperell police used a reverse-911 system to notify residents they were looking for her, and one of the residents who got that call recognized her and Rossi in Hudson on Sunday afternoon.
Hudson police Officer Patrick Stravick went to Lowell Road, where he recognized the girl and Rossi due to photographs provided by Pepperell police, according to court documents. When Stravick tried to escort the girl to his cruiser so that he could speak to Rossi, she refused and continued to struggle with the officer when he tried to handcuff her to place her in protective custody, according to court documents. At that point, Rossi used his closed fist and punched the officer in the face, court documents state.
The officer, who was uninjured, drew his Taser and ordered Rossi and the girl to the ground. They complied.
Rossi was charged with felony kidnapping, simple assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and violation of a protective order. The girl was released to the custody of her mother.
Bush said that Rossi reacted to seeing he girl being handcuffed by police.
In arguing for $5,000 cash bail, Bush said that his client has no criminal record other than this case and a harassment order taken out by the girl’s mother after an Aug. 10 rollover accident in Nashua the two were in. DeStefano said she wanted to keep Rossi away from her daughter due to the difference in their ages.
Rossi’s next court date in Nashua District Court is Sept. 17 for a status hearing.