PEARISBURG — Abducting a toddler from a Giles County church’s childcare area during services will cost Nancy Renee Fridley 15 years behind bars, a judge said Monday.
“You are a dangerous person,” Judge Lee Harrell told the Clifton Forge woman during a sentencing hearing in Giles County Circuit Court. “… The crime you committed is the stuff of fairy tale, of the darkest fairy tale.“
Besides the 15 years to serve, Harrell suspended another 10 years of incarceration. Fridley, 46, will be supervised by the probation office for five years after her release, the judge ordered.
Fridley pleaded guilty last year to abduction, two counts of attempted abduction, and child abuse or neglect, crimes for which she faced a maximum sentence of 25 years.
Also last year, Fridley pleaded guilty in Alleghany County to a drug possession charge that stemmed from the abduction case. She was sentenced there to supervised probation and a suspended prison term.
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Her boyfriend, Bobby Lee Taylor, 44, was convicted of abduction and drug possession and got five years to serve on those and several unrelated convictions.
Fridley’s course through the two counties’ courts was launched on May 2, 2021, when she took Noah Gabriel Trout, then a 2-year-old, from the nursery at Riverview Baptist Church without his parents’ permission. Fridley drove the boy to the Alleghany County residence she shared with Taylor. The couple introduced the boy to neighbors as their son, calling him “Bobby Jr.”
A search effort that involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Virginia State Police, along with the Giles County Sheriff’s Office and numerous other agencies, tracked Noah to the residence in Clifton Forge. About 25 hours after the boy’s disappearance, officers swooped in to recover him. Noah’s head had been shaved but he was otherwise physically unharmed, authorities said.
At Monday’s hearing, defense attorney Ryan Hamrick of Christiansburg highlighted Fridley’s long history of mental illness. He called as witnesses her daughter and mother, who testified that Fridley, who had lived in Craig County before moving to Clifton Forge, was fine when she took her medication.
But Fridley had a pattern of stopping the medication and becoming a very different person, they said.
Olivia Slusher, Fridley’s daughter, said that her mother had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and mood disorders, and as bipolar and manic-depressive. When Fridley took medication, she was stable, Slusher said, but when she stopped, she often made up elaborate false stories.
These seemed aimed at prolonging Fridley’s relationships with men, testified Angela Hannah, who said she’d been a friend of Fridley’s for years.
Slusher and Hannah testified that they thought Fridley’s relationship with Taylor was toxic.
Soon after her arrest, Fridley was declared mentally unable to assist in her defense and her case was briefly put on hold while she received treatment.
In court Monday, her relatives said the care that Fridley continues to receive behind bars had restored a mental balance.
In a short statement before sentencing, Fridley agreed, saying, “The person I have become in the last few months would like to apologize.”
Fridley said that her actions followed her going off her medications and developing “an alter ego and multiple personalities.”
But Giles County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bobby Lilly said Fridley “knew exactly what she was doing.”
Lilly said that Fridley lied to Taylor over a long period, telling him that twice while he was in jail, she had given birth to two sons that he fathered.
Giles County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Amanda Cornwell testified that examination of Fridley’s cell phone showed she created fake text threads that seemed to show communication with social workers about getting custody. This was to convince Taylor that the two boys would be coming back to them and the couple needed toddler beds, clothing and other items for children.
Fridley’s phone showed she made numerous Internet searches looking for the locations of churches, not just in Giles County but in North Carolina, Tennessee, and “all the way up to Michigan,” Cornwell said.
Fridley’s actions on May 2, 2021, included first going to the Riverview church nursery and discovering no boy in the age range that she sought, going to child care areas at two churches in Narrows where workers turned her away, then returning to Riverview and finding Noah, Lilly said.
She convinced two women supervising the Riverview children’s area that Noah’s parents had asked her to pick up the boy, according to testimony at an earlier hearing.
Cornwell said Monday that Fridley met again with investigators last year, after pleading guilty, and said that Taylor had told her to produce the children that she claimed they had, or to move out. Fridley said that she feared Taylor, and hoped to locate two boys that she could present as Taylor’s, Cornwell said.
“She was looking for something to fit the bill. She was not looking for a specific family’s child,” Cornwell testified.
Fridley told investigators that someone forwarded to Taylor the emergency Amber alert that was making the rounds on social media. Taylor realized the missing boy was the child Fridley had presented as his.
On the morning of May 3, 2021, Fridley told officers, Taylor said that she had to take the boy back to where she found him.
Instead, Fridley sent law enforcement a false tip that the missing child had been seen in Bristol, Tennessee, Cornwell said.
Then she sought another vehicle to take Noah not back to Giles County, but to Roanoke, Cornwell said. Another vehicle was needed because a description of hers had been widely broadcast, Lilly said.
Charles Mace, a neighbor of Fridley and Taylor, testified that Fridley came to his door and asked if he could drive her and the boy, whom he’d met the prior day, to a social services office in Roanoke. Mace said that Fridley explained that her vehicle had broken down but she needed to get the boy to the office quickly because her custody had only been for 24 hours.
Mace said that he had just got his pickup truck loaded with the boy, his own daughter, and Fridley, when officers surrounded them.
FBI Special Agent Kristina Cowden testified that after Noah was taken from Mace’s truck she stayed with him until he was examined hours later at a New River Valley hospital. During the drive from Alleghany County, Cowden said, she noticed a piece of paper tucked into one of the boy’s pants pockets.
That turned out to be a letter that Lilly described as another of Fridley’s attempts to evade investigators. It began, “The kid was left unharmed but what can you do when you’re trying to do the right thing. This kid belongs to someone else and they call him by a different name.”
Cornwell testified that the letter was signed with the name of a woman who had been mentioned on social media as possibly connected to the case.
“She’s trying to frame” the woman, Lilly said.
In the initial questioning after Fridley’s arrest, she blamed the woman named in the letter for the abduction, saying that the woman asked her to meet at Dixie Caverns in western Roanoke County. There, she said, the woman had given Fridley a boy and asked her to take care of him for a few days.
Lilly said that he would not name the woman in court because investigators cleared her of any involvement with the abduction.
Lilly said that Fridley apparently followed the online discussion that blew up after Noah’s disappearance and found the woman’s name there. However, at the time that Fridley gave for the supposed meeting at Dixie Caverns, investigators knew the woman actually had been at home — because officers were there with her, following up on the online speculation, Lilly said.
Harrell said that Fridley’s pattern of deception and her skill at using technology to create false stories were factors that led him to pronounce a sentence beyond that suggested by state guidelines.
The guidelines recommended a maximum incarceration of three years and seven months.
That was “woefully inadequate,” the judge said.