Former best friend testifies in Hamel trial

  • The tri-color hoodie that was entered as evidence in the Keith Hamel trial. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Keith Hamel in Franklin County Superior Court during his trial on Monday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • State Police Detective Gary Darling testifies in Franklin County Superior Court Judge during Keith Hamel trial on Monday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Keith Hamel is led into Franklin County Superior Court for his trial on Monday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Franklin County Superior Court Judge John Agostini, right, talks with First Assistant Clerk Magistrate Ben Simanski, defense attorney Josh Hochberg and Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci during Keith Hamel’s trial on Monday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/30/2022 9:17:59 AM
Modified: 8/30/2022 9:17:46 AM

GREENFIELD — The boyfriend of the 26-year-old Leominster woman who was beaten to death in November 2019 took the witness stand Monday morning in the trial of the Athol man who is accused of her murder.

Kevin McGann spent a couple of hours in Franklin County Superior Court fielding questions from prosecutors and Keith D. Hamel’s defense attorney, describing his roughly two-week romantic relationship with Kelsey Clifford and detailing the weekend in 2019 that became the final night of her life.

Hamel, 25, is accused of using a hammer to murder Clifford to conceal a sexual encounter between the two. 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 on Nov. 11, 2019.

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. He is also alleged to have stolen $400 in cash and a cellphone from the victim after she was dead.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber are prosecuting the case for the state. Hamel is represented by attorney Joshua Hochberg.

Upon taking the stand on Monday, McGann explained he had met Clifford via Facebook in October. He recalled for the jury that on Nov. 11, Clifford became angry when McGann’s ex-girlfriend had “laugh-reacted” to a photo of Clifford on social media.

McGann, who was living on South Street, said he suggested Clifford “sleep it off” and the two fell asleep. When he awoke, he went into his living room with friend Jordan Race to drink and hang out before they left for Hamel’s apartment on Silver Lake Street.

McGann said he had fairly recently become close friends with Hamel, who was dating his sister. McGann recounted that Clifford called Hamel’s phone and was irate that McGann had left her alone. She was reportedly also upset because she thought someone had stolen her medication, though she soon found it.

McGann explained he assumed their brief relationship had ended when Clifford hung up the phone. He said everyone eventually went to sleep and he was eating breakfast the next morning when his sister got a call from their mother that the State Police were at the home asking questions as part of an investigation.

McGann said he got to South Street and went to the Athol Police Station to be interviewed. He confirmed for prosecutors that police still have his cellphone. He said he consented to having his house searched as well as his hands swabbed and his DNA taken.

In January 2020, the Greenfield Recorder published an article that included information about a sexual encounter between Hamel and Clifford. McGann said that Hamel, who had access to the Recorder while being held without bail, called him and McGann’s sister to inform them of the encounter.

During the attorneys’ opening statements on Thursday, Hochberg told jurors that McGann — not Hamel — should be in the defendant’s chair. During Hochberg’s cross-examination on Monday, McGann said he was upset that Clifford worked as an exotic dancer and was upset he had not been warned to use a condom during sex. He also confirmed police had photographed a bullet cartridge in his apartment and he does not have an FID card.

Hochberg recapped the transcripts of McGann’s interviews with police, pointing out inconsistencies between what he said then and what he was saying on the stand. McGann had initially told police he picked up Race, who was intoxicated, and carried him to bed. On Monday, he said he basically dragged Race to bed.

“So you lied to police about that?” Hochberg pushed.

“I was kind of under a lot of pressure there,” McGann responded.

Hochberg accused McGann of changing his account, but McGann said he simply remembered the events more clearly over time. Hochberg also confirmed that a hammer was recovered from McGann’s closet.

The prosecution later called to the stand Gary Darling, a detective with the State Police who had taken part in the initial interview of Hamel. The 55-minute interview was played for the courtroom.

At the beginning of the interview, Hamel admitted to having smoked crack cocaine about 30 minutes earlier. He said Clifford had spotted him and his girlfriend walking through Athol the night of the murder and gave them a ride to Cumberland Farms to buy cigarettes. He said Clifford was “a mess” due to her argument with McGann but said he “never touched her,” saying “she’s not even my type.”

Toward the end of the interview, Hamel became agitated and asked to leave, which he was allowed to do because he was not under arrest.

“I didn’t hurt nobody,” Hamel told police.

During cross-examination, Hochberg confirmed with Darling that he knew Hamel was high on crack and still did not conduct the interview at a later time “to get his head straight.” He also reiterated that Hamel was exhausted and had gotten one hour of sleep the previous night.

The state then called to the stand Jade Hall, who had dated McGann’s brother, who has since died. She explained Hamel had at some point asked her if New Hampshire extradites criminals to Massachusetts for prosecution and asked her to research Massachusetts’ penalties for homicide. Hochberg had Hall, who was often emotional on the stand, confirm that McGann had given her a detailed story of how he thought Clifford’s murder had occurred.

Amanda Livingston testified that she and her then-fiancé were driving with Hamel to Fitchburg on Nov. 11 to buy drugs. She said Hamel got a phone call informing him of Clifford’s death and he “freaked out.”

The final witness of the day was James Valcourt Jr., who said he had been friends with Hamel for about two years by 2019. Valcourt recalled how Hamel had — at roughly 9 p.m. around the day of Clifford’s murder — stopped by his house to ask to borrow a clean sweatshirt and a flashlight. Valcourt explained Hamel said he needed a flashlight to “go out in the woods and bury a little bit of narcotics.”

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

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


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