Attorneys deliver closing arguments in Hamel trial; jurors to continue deliberations Tuesday

  • Defense attorney Joshua Hochberg, representing Keith D. Hamel, makes his closing argument to the jury in Franklin County Superior Court on Friday. Jury deliberations will continue Tuesday due to the Labor Day holiday. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci makes his closing argument to the jury in Franklin County Superior Court during the trial of Athol native Keith D. Hamel on Friday. Jury deliberations will continue Tuesday due to the Labor Day holiday. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Franklin County Superior Court Judge John Agostini speaks to jurors on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/4/2022 12:42:15 PM
Modified: 9/4/2022 12:38:26 PM

GREENFIELD — Jurors in the Franklin County Superior Court trial of Keith D. Hamel, the Athol man accused of killing a 26-year-old woman nearly three years ago, will continue deliberations Tuesday after not reaching a verdict in 2 hours and 40 minutes on Friday. Court is closed Monday due to Labor Day.

Opposing attorneys delivered their closing arguments Friday morning before Judge John Agostini carefully explained to the jurors their responsibilities as they talk behind closed doors. As he has at the end of each day of this trial, Agostini instructed jurors not to discuss this case with anyone, not to conduct their own research, and not to go to any of the locations mentioned in the case.

Hamel, 25, is accused of using a claw hammer to murder Kelsey Clifford in the early hours of Nov. 11, 2019, and leaving her body near the locked gates of the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant. He is also alleged to have stolen $400 in cash and a cellphone from the victim after she was dead to delete evidence of a sexual encounter between the two. Hamel has pleaded not guilty to single counts of murder and armed robbery, two counts of intimidation of a witness/juror/police/court official and four counts of withholding evidence from an official proceeding.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber are prosecuting the case for the state. Defense attorney Joshua Hochberg represents Hamel. The state rested its case on Wednesday and the defense rested Thursday.

During his closing argument, Hochberg reiterated a comment from his opening remarks, that Kevin McGann, Clifford’s boyfriend, “should be in (the defendant’s) seat.” He said McGann — who took the witness stand on Monday — was unhappy Clifford worked as an exotic dancer and was afraid he would contract sexually transmitted diseases from having unprotected sex with her.

McGann testified that he and Clifford had gone to sleep on Nov. 10, but he later woke up and left Clifford in bed to go to Hamel’s apartment on Silver Lake Street. McGann recounted that Clifford called Hamel’s phone to contact McGann and was furious that McGann had left her alone. He explained he assumed their relationship had ended when Clifford hung up the phone.

Hochberg suggested McGann and Clifford drove to the wastewater treatment plant, a secluded location, to smoke cocaine and they shared a cigarette (found in Clifford’s hand) before McGann struck Clifford in the face multiple times with a hammer, breaking her teeth and killing her. Hochberg also suggested McGann made a “weak attempt” to hide evidence by disposing of an incriminating sweatshirt on Leonard Street, where it was found by a woman walking her dog. He also suggested McGann deleted the now-missing text messages between Hamel and Clifford.

Hochberg went on to say that McGann was riddled with guilt two months after Clifford’s murder and tearfully confessed the crime to friend Tiffani Cote, who took the stand Thursday, but said he would not “go down” for it. Hochberg also suggested McGann was awake and feeling the effects of cocaine at one point that he claimed to be asleep. The defense attorney reminded the jury that the state has agreed not to prosecute McGann for drug offenses, possession of ammunition without an FID card and misleading police. Also, police recovered a hammer in McGann’s bedroom.

Hochberg also mentioned how Amanda Livingston — who testified on Monday — was in a car with Hamel when he got the phone call about Clifford’s death and she saw his shocked reaction.

“There’s strong evidence that Mr. McGann is guilty,” Hochberg said.

He also mentioned Clifford’s jeans, which were around her ankles when her body was found, were not analyzed by the Massachusetts State Police crime lab.

When it was Bucci’s turn to provide closing remarks, he reminded jurors Hamel told multiple lies to authorities following Clifford’s murder.

“Consider their purpose,” he said.

Bucci showed the jurors surveillance footage they had previously seen and explained Clifford died between 3:28 a.m. and 3:46 a.m., due to 20 blows to the head. He showed footage of Hamel and his girlfriend, who is also McGann’s sister, walking in the same direction as the sewer grate where a hammer was found more than a year later with the help of a map one of Hamel’s fellow inmates drew, according to him, at Hamel’s insistence to give to jail officers under the guise of the information having come from McGann. Bucci also reminded jurors that McGann’s right hand — his dominant one — was in a cast the night of Clifford’s murder and surveillance footage shows him struggling to even remove money from his pocket with his left hand.

“Your common sense and your life experience has to guide you,” Bucci told jurors.

He also played audio recordings of Hamel’s interviews with police. Hamel referred to Clifford as “sloppy” and “not my type.”

“He’s distancing himself,” Bucci said. “Why would he need to distance himself?”

Hamel reportedly did not tell McGann about the sexual encounter with Clifford until he read a Greenfield Recorder article that published that information when it was revealed in court.

“The person with the motive to kill her that night is the defendant,” Bucci said.

Saliva and DNA matching that of Hamel were recovered from Clifford’s body.

He urged the jury to conclude that Hamel committed the murder and did so in a cruel and atrocious way.

“If there was ever a case of cruelty and atrocity,” he said, “it is this.”

Before adjourning for the three-day weekend, Agostini mentioned he received a note from the jury requesting a whiteboard, Post-it notes and some new markers on Tuesday. He said the court would do its best to accommodate that request.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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