Judge hears motion to dismiss armed robbery charge

  • Defendant Keith Hamel is led into the courtroom by court officers on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI


Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2021 1:19:26 PM
Modified: 9/2/2021 1:19:33 PM

GREENFIELD — A Franklin County Superior Court judge is expected in the next few days to rule on a motion to dismiss the armed robbery charge against Keith D. Hamel, the Athol man accused of killing a Leominster woman in November 2019 and leaving her body near the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Hamel, 24, previously pleaded not guilty to one count of armed robbery, one count of murder, two counts of misleading police, and four counts of tampering with evidence. He is being held without the right to bail. A trial is scheduled to begin April 4, 2022.

Judge John Agostini heard from the defense and the prosecution Wednesday afternoon regarding the motion to dismiss. Hamel is accused of stealing $400 in cash and a cellphone from 26-year-old Kelsey Clifford, whose body was found Nov. 11 with at least 15 stab wounds to her head and face near the locked gates of the plant’s entrance.

Defense attorney Joshua C. Hochberg, who works out of Pittsfield, argued there is no evidence that Clifford was in possession of the money when she was killed, nor that Hamel ever took possession of it. He also said the state alleges the money was taken as an afterthought once Clifford had been killed, meaning it was larceny as opposed to armed robbery. Hochberg suggested Clifford used the money to buy drugs, as drug purchases are almost exclusively conducted with cash. He also said that “phones are lost all the time.”

The state believes the murder was a snap decision made to get access to the phone to delete evidence of a sexual encounter between Hamel, who had a girlfriend, and Clifford, who had a boyfriend.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Webber, who is prosecuting the case alongside Chief Trial Counsel Jeremy Bucci, said also said the state has reason to believe Hamel knew Clifford had cash on her person at the time.

“The defendant had the means, motive, intent and opportunity to steal cash from the victim and had the means, motive, intent and opportunity to steal the victim’s cellphone,” he told Agostini.

The judge asked Webber what evidence there is to allege armed robbery, and Webber said he thinks it is reasonable to infer Hamel wanted the cash and cellphone.

The court has scheduled for Dec. 20 a hearing on the defense’s motion to suppress statements Hamel made to authorities. A final pretrial conference is slated for Jan. 24, 2022.

Hochberg declined to disclose where his client is being housed but said he was moved from the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield for his safety.

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

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