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Investigation launched into Bedford School District staffer's testimony in sex abuse case

By TODD FEATHERS
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 23. 2018 10:38AM
Kristie Torbick addresses the Rockingham County Superior Court earlier this month at her sentencing hearing for sexual assault. She pleaded guilty to assaulting a student while a guidance counselor at Exeter High School. (JASON SCHREIBER/CORRESPONDENT)



BEDFORD - Following a week of public pressure, the Bedford School Board will investigate why a top high school administrator testified as a character witness for a former guidance counselor who sexually abused a 14-year-old.

The announcement came after a group of residents sent the Union Leader emails and text messages, which they obtained through a Right-to-Know request, that showed Bedford High School Dean of Students Zanna Blaney shared a copy of her planned testimony with the convicted abuser, Kristie Torbick, to edit and asked Torbick's lawyers if they would like her to make any changes to it.

Torbick committed the crimes after she had left the Bedford School District and began working at Exeter High School.

In a statement to the Bedford community sent on July 14, Superintendent Chip McGee wrote that "several weeks ago" his staff received a request from Torbick's attorney for testimony about her character. District officials "agonized" over whether to send someone to testify in support of Torbick at her sentencing hearing and eventually decided they would send Blaney to "share information only from the view of a supervisor and only using the actual written evaluations."

In an email dated April 27, 2017 - a month after Torbick was first charged and more than a year before the July 9 sentencing hearing - Blaney sent an email to Donna Brown, Torbick's first attorney, with a copy of a draft statement.

"If my letter is not quite what is needed I'm happy to make adjustments," Blaney wrote.

Then 11 days before the sentencing hearing earlier this month, Blaney sent a copy of the statement to Torbick and her new attorney with the message "Thoughts?"

McGee said in an interview that Blaney's messages were appropriate insomuch as she was asking Torbick's attorneys whether they still wanted to use her testimony, which was mostly excerpts from old written evaluations. He also reiterated that he and Blaney knew what crimes Torbick was charged with, and later pleaded guilty to, but did not know the details until the sentencing hearing.

Blaney could not be reached for comment. A number listed for her was disconnected.

A Rockingham County Superior Court judge sentenced Torbick to 2½ to 5 years in prison; prosecutors had asked for a 5- to 10-year sentence.

Torbick's victim left the sentencing hearing in tears as Blaney and officials from other schools read statements in support of Torbick's past work.

In a brief statement announcing its investigation into the matter, the Bedford School Board wrote that sexual violence and child abuse will never be tolerated in the district.

"The School Board understands that recent events have shaken our community's trust in our schools and we want the public to know that we have heard their concerns."

At least one school board member, Bill Kassler, indicated in one of the emails obtained through the Right-to-Know requests that he believes McGee and Blaney acted appropriately.

"You/she did nothing wrong," he wrote. Kassler could not immediately be reached for comment.

April 2017 emails between Zanna Blaney and Donna Brown (Kristie Torbick's first lawyer):



June 2018 emails from Zanna Blaney to Kristie Torbick and Sisti Law Offices:



July 2018 text messages between Zanna Blaney and Chip McGee:



July 2018 emails between Zanna Blaney, Chip McGee and the Bedford School Board:



Education Courts Bedford


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