BERLIN, N.H. >> A New Hampshire man accused of killing his 11-year-old stepdaughter five years ago is to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before the criminal case against him proceeds.
Fifty-two-year-old Wendell Noyes made an initial court appearance on a second-degree murder charge Tuesday, a day after his arrest at the state psychiatric hospital. Noyes had been hospitalized since December after being found incompetent to stand trial on unrelated misdemeanors.
Given the circumstances, the judge put the murder case on hold pending an updated competency evaluation. Noyes' attorney and prosecutors agreed to delay scheduling his next hearing until he undergoes the evaluation.
Appearing via video conference from the county jail, Noyes did not speak at the arraignment other than to indicate he understood the charge. His eyes widened when the judge said he could face up to life in prison.
Noyes is accused of killing 11-year-old Celina Cass by submerging her body in the Connecticut River, where it was found six days after she was reported missing July 26, 2011. Her disappearance led to an intense search by federal, state and local law enforcement in the tiny North Country town of Stewartstown, a mile from the Canadian border.
For Celina's mother, the arrest brought some measure of justice, though Louisia Cass said she hopes her ex-husband ends up in prison rather than the hospital. Asked how she felt Tuesday, she answered: "Rage. Hate. I hope he rots in hell."
Cass said Noyes — her husband of nine months — seemed loving and caring, and her children were happy. "He never did anything that was suspicious," she said. But as time passed after Celina's death, she began to believe he was responsible.
"We all came to that conclusion," she said. "Things just didn't make sense."
Cass described her last night with her daughter: watching TV with her in a rocking chair, hugging her and telling her "I love you" before going to bed. Noyes was outside drinking with friends on the porch, she said.
In 2011, Noyes said he had nothing to do with Celina's disappearance and death.
Court records show he was charged with simple assault, criminal mischief, resisting arrest and violating bail conditions in October. He also was deemed unfit to stand trial in a 2003 case in which he was charged with breaking into an ex-girlfriend's home and threatening her.
Prosecutors have not said what led them to charge Noyes, of Stewartstown. They have said the investigation since Celina's death has been "active." A court affidavit on Noyes' case was sealed Tuesday.
Celina's home was heavily damaged by fire in December 2013 and was later razed. The fifth-grader, who played basketball on her school team in nearby Canaan, Vermont, is buried in a cemetery in Groveton.
Wearing a shirt featuring her daughter's picture, Cass said she wants people to remember Celina "as a loving, caring, beautiful little girl who should be here now."