Defense rests in Athol murder trial; closing arguments set for Friday

  • Keith D. Hamel, an Athol man accused of murdering Kelsey Clifford in November 2019, listens to Judge John Agostini while standing to the left of defense attorney Joshua Hochberg in Franklin County Superior Court on Thursday morning. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Jacob Young sits on the witness stand in Franklin County Superior Court on Thursday morning during the murder trial of Keith D. Hamel. To the left is defense attorney Joshua Hochberg. Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Joseph Webber is seated to the right. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2022 10:17:16 AM
Modified: 9/2/2022 10:13:37 AM

GREENFIELD — The defense rested its case Thursday morning in the trial of Keith D. Hamel, an Athol man accused of killing a 26-year-old woman in November 2019. Jurors will hear closing arguments Friday before starting deliberations.

Attorney Joshua Hochberg called to the Franklin County Superior Court witness stand on Thursday Tiffani Cote, Hamel’s friend, and Jacob Young, who is dating Hamel’s sister. Hamel then assured Judge John Agostini he wished to exercise his right not to testify on his own behalf and that he was not coerced into making this decision.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber, who are prosecuting this case for the state, rested their case Wednesday after nearly a week of presenting evidence and calling witnesses.

Hamel, 25, is accused of using a claw hammer to murder Kelsey Clifford, who had recently moved to Athol from Fitchburg, 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 as well as two counts of intimidation of a witness/juror/police/court official and four counts of withholding evidence from an official proceeding.

Cote, Hamel’s friend, testified that Hamel once cried to her all night, saying he didn’t kill Clifford and that he wasn’t “going to go down for” the murder. Hamel was arrested on Nov. 18, 2019. He has been held without the right to bail.

The state has called into question Hamel’s claims of having as little as $8 to his name the day of Clifford’s death because of surveillance footage of him buying items at the Cumberland Farms on Main Street. He also allegedly purchased drugs in Leominster that day. The prosecution suggests the cash had been stolen from Clifford’s person after she was murdered. Clifford had worked a shift as an exotic dancer the Saturday before she died and was paid in cash. But Young, who is dating Hamel’s sister, testified that he had loaned Hamel $200 to buy someone a birthday gift.

After the jurors had been excused, Hochberg told Agostini that Amanda Livingston — a witness who had testified on Monday that she and her then-fiancé traveled with Hamel to buy drugs in Leominster — never said Hamel actually purchased any. When asked by Agostini, Hamel said Hochberg has done an excellent job in representing him.

To start Thursday’s session, Agostini denied Hochberg’s motion for a required finding of not guilty on all charges, with Hochberg arguing that the state’s evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.

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


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