Athol man pleads not guilty to murder

  • Keith D. Hamel, of Athol, enters Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday, where he pleaded not guilty to murder. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Keith D. Hamel, of Athol, looks to defense attorney John Morris after pleading not guilty on the charge of murder in Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2020 9:56:42 AM
Modified: 1/16/2020 9:56:11 AM

GREENFIELD — The Athol man accused of killing a 26-year-old Leominster woman on Nov. 11 was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty to murder in Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday, the case having been transferred from Orange District Court due to its severity.

Keith D. Hamel, 23, was arraigned in the Franklin County Justice Center as his family looked on. He faces one count of murder, one count of armed robbery, two counts of misleading police and four counts of tampering with evidence. If convicted of murder in the first degree, he would serve a minimum sentence of life without parole.

Hamel is alleged to have killed Kelsey Clifford, whose body was found on Nov. 11 near the locked gates of the entrance of the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant with at least 15 stab wounds to her head and face.

According to Chief Trial Counsel Jeremy Bucci, who is prosecuting the case, Hamel’s best friend was dating Clifford. Hamel is being defended by attorney John Morris.

According to a statement of alleged facts by the prosecution, Clifford was found lying face-down without her cellphone, and all her money was missing. Police later that day found Hamel’s sweatshirt in a bush on Leonard Street, between the crime scene and his Silver Lake Street home. The sweatshirt had Clifford’s blood on the outside of it and Hamel’s DNA on the inside of a sleeve. Hamel’s DNA was also recovered from Clifford’s genital area.

The statement by the prosecution also alleges Hamel lied to investigators when questioned on Nov. 11, telling them that he did not have a phone on the day of the murder and that he had been with a juvenile girl during a car ride with Clifford early that morning. He allegedly repeated the same lies the following day. According to the statement, investigators learned Hamel destroyed his phone and had deleted Facebook messages between himself and Clifford on both of their phones. Investigators also learned Hamel was alone with Clifford the day of the murder.

Clifford’s family declined to comment to the press. Three people, two women and one man, who identified themselves as Hamel’s family members but declined to give their names, said Hamel is innocent. They argued the state is simply looking to close the case quickly, a claim Bucci rebutted outside the courtroom.

“That family, we understand, wants to support their son and their brother,” Bucci said, “but I can tell you the state has consumed thousands of man-hours on this case already. And by the time the public is ready to see this at trial, they will understand that no stone — literally no stone — was left unturned.”

An out-of-court conference is set for Feb. 14

“That’s the date we are expected to provide most, if not all, of the discovery that we have to the defense,” Bucci explained. “It’s out of court and essentially between the attorneys, where I make sure that everything has been provided to him by that date.”

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for April 10, when Bucci expects to discuss potential trial dates. He thinks the trial might begin a year from April.

Hamel was arrested Nov. 18, at approximately 4:40 p.m. on Main Street in Athol. At the time of Clifford’s death, Hamel had eight open adult criminal dockets pending in Orange District Court. He has previously been charged with larceny under $1,200, being a fugitive from justice on a court warrant, resisting arrest, possession of a Class B drug, and two counts of assault and battery on a police officer.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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