Evidence on bloody sweatshirt shared in Athol murder trial

  • Keith Hamel, left, in Franklin County Superior Court with his attorney, Joshua Hochberg, on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci asks State Police Trooper Josh Winters to identify a crime scene photo he took in Franklin County Superior Court during the trial of Keith Hamel on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Franklin County Superior Court Judge John Agostini, right, meets with attorneys and court officials in a sidebar to discuss evidence photos on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Keith Hamel in Franklin County Superior Court on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/29/2022 12:16:59 PM
Modified: 8/29/2022 12:16:46 PM

GREENFIELD — A bloody sweatshirt was a major factor in the arrest of Keith D. Hamel, the Athol man accused of killing 26-year-old Kelsey Clifford nearly three years ago. On Friday, the trial’s 16 jurors heard testimony from the woman who discovered the discarded article of clothing and another whose child found a white belt near it.

Clifford’s body was found outside the locked gates of the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant with at least 15 puncture wounds to her head and face in the early hours of Nov. 11, 2019. Hamel, 25, 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. Hamel is also alleged to have stolen $400 in cash and a cellphone from the victim after she was dead.

The state alleges that Hamel, who had a girlfriend, killed Clifford, who had a boyfriend, with a hammer in order to get access to her cellphone to delete evidence of a sexual encounter between the two. Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber are prosecuting the case for the state. Hamel is represented by attorney Joshua Hochberg.

On Friday morning, prosecutors called to the witness stand Beatrice Cerez, who explained she was walking her dog at around noon on Nov. 11, 2019, and the canine found a sweatshirt on Leonard Street that was inside out. She said she also noticed a white belt about 8 feet away from it. The sweatshirt was tri-colored and of good quality, so she “turned it right side out” and placed it across the street, assuming it belonged to a child that lived near there. Cerez said she returned home and her downstairs neighbors informed her of the murder that by that time had been generating buzz throughout Massachusetts.

Leonard Street is between the wastewater treatment plant and where Hamel was living on Silver Lake Street. The sweatshirt belonged to Hamel and had his DNA and Clifford’s blood on it, according to prosecutors. Also, saliva and DNA matching that of Hamel were recovered from Clifford’s body.

Cerez said she walked back to the scene and returned the sweatshirt to where she had found it, explaining to jurors she wanted to be able to show police where it had been located originally. She said she noticed the white belt was gone by then. She then went home and called the Athol Police Department, which dispatched officers to meet Cerez at her home. Officers walked with her to the sweatshirt, taking it into evidence.

Prosecutors then called to the stand Tanya Cote, who explained she was going to work on Nov. 11 when she noticed one of her children outside playing with a white belt. She said she thought nothing of it and went to work. She told jurors her then-boyfriend asked the child where the belt had come from and was told the child had found it. The then-boyfriend then placed the belt on Cote’s bureau. On a separate day, she explained, she returned from grocery shopping to find police officers at her home asking if anyone there had recently found any articles in the area. She informed them of the belt (which she said she had not touched since it was placed on her bureau) and led authorities inside to take the belt into evidence.

State Police Trooper Adam Leonczyk was the next person called to the stand. The sweatshirt, which was covered in plastic and on a headless, armless mannequin, was brought into the courtroom. He said he took in the sweatshirt as evidence.

Petersham Police Chief Peter Buck, who worked as a detective for the Athol Police Department at the time of Clifford’s murder, explained he took in the belt as evidence.

When Trooper Christopher Lapointe took the stand, he confirmed for Bucci the authenticity of the displayed floor plans and photographs taken in the South Street apartment where Clifford lived and the Silver Lake Street apartment where Hamel lived.

Earlier in the day, jurors heard from Jordan Race, Hamel’s former friend who now lives in Wyoming. The state had flown him in for his testimony.

Race detailed the night of drinking that preceded Clifford’s death and said he and two others — including Hamel — were questioned by police on Nov. 11. He said Hamel had told him and other friends to be honest with authorities.

The trial will resume in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday at 9 a.m.

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


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