Jurors in Hamel trial shown alleged murder weapon

  • Massachusetts State Police Trooper David Vincent sits on the witness stand on Tuesday during the trial of Keith D. Hamel, the Athol man accused of using a hammer to kill 26-year-old Kelsey Clifford in November 2019. To his left is the hammer, encased in glass, that prosecutors say Hamel used. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Pictured is a projection of a hand-drawn map depicting where murder suspect Keith D. Hamel allegedly told fellow inmate Tony Audet the murder weapon would be found (in a sewer grate). Hamel is accused of using a hammer to murder 26-year-old Kelsey Clifford in November 2019. Hamel denies the charges and has never admitted to the killing or to placing the hammer in the sewer. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Inmate Tony Audet sits on the witness stand on Tuesday in the trial of Keith D. Hamel, who is accused of using a hammer to kill 26-year-old Kelsey Clifford in November 2019. Audet testified that Hamel detailed for him a map of where the murder weapon would be found (in a sewer grate). STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/31/2022 4:24:45 PM
Modified: 8/31/2022 4:24:32 PM

GREENFIELD — The doctor who conducted the autopsy of Kelsey Clifford, the 26-year-old woman found bludgeoned to death outside the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant in 2019, testified on Tuesday that the victim’s injuries are consistent with a claw hammer recovered by authorities during the investigation.

Dr. Andrew Elin, an attending physician at the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, took the stand in Franklin County Superior Court as part of the trial of Keith D. Hamel, the Athol man accused of the murder. Elin described to jurors the 20 head injuries Clifford sustained in the early hours of Nov. 11, 2019. He also said several of the blows could have been fatal on their own and Clifford likely died “quite quickly.”

Hamel, 25, is accused of killing Clifford to cover up a sexual encounter between the two. He 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 case is being prosecuted by Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber. Attorney Joshua Hochberg is representing Hamel.

Elin testified that Clifford’s body was identified via fingerprints. He ruled that her death was a homicide by blunt force injuries to the head. He was shown the recovered hammer and noted it could have been used to inflict the wounds observed on Clifford’s body.

During cross-examination, Hochberg had Elin confirm that he had been with the medical examiner’s office for only a few months before Clifford’s autopsy. Hochberg also ensured Elin agreed with a definition of confirmation bias, the tendency to search for and interpret information in a way that supports a preconceived notion or one’s prior beliefs or values. Trying to cast doubt on the state’s case, Hochberg asked Elin to confirm the hammer — which had been cleansed of DNA evidence due to rain and debris — was not necessarily the weapon used to kill Clifford.

“Another object could have caused those injuries, yes,” Elin replied.

Earlier in the day, Massachusetts State Police Trooper David Vincent was called to the witness stand and brought in the hammer he recovered from a sewer grate at the corner of Ridge Avenue and Union Street in Athol on Jan. 28, 2021. Tracy Breton, a forensic scientist for the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory in Springfield, then took the stand and explained she analyzed the hammer for trace evidence and examined other debris removed from the sewer drain in a search for further evidence, though there was none.

Authorities were alerted to the hammer’s whereabouts by Tony Audet, a fellow inmate who befriended Hamel. Audet testified on Tuesday that Hamel told him where the murder weapon was and asked him to tell jail officers that the information came from Kevin McGann, Clifford’s boyfriend who testified in court on Monday. Audet, who is awaiting sentencing on an armed robbery charge, had met McGann in a transfer cell when the latter was arrested on a warrant.

Audet explained he drew a map according to Hamel’s description of the murder weapon’s location, and later made a copy of it. He said he gave the map to Lt. Jamie Poremba, who in turn handed it over to Capt. Fredrick Glabach. However, Audet said he was truthful and told officers the map’s information came from Hamel.

Audet told prosecutors that Hamel told him about the hammer hoping there would be fingerprints or other evidence on it to “disconnect him from the case.”

Hochberg grilled Audet on the stand, telling him he has “made a bit of a career” out of being a “jailhouse snitch.” Audet explained he cooperates with jail officers in exchange for money on an account to spend at the jail’s canteen, where inmates can buy snacks and other items. He said he also sells these items to fellow inmates. But, he said, he is always honest about the information he forwards.

“I’m looking out for the jail and other inmates,” Audet told Hochberg.

The defense attorney had Audet confirm the maximum penalty for armed robbery is life imprisonment. Audet said his criminal charges are from outside Franklin County and the odds of his testimony gaining him any favor are “very, very, very slim.”

“I kind of just wanted the truth to come out,” he said.

Audet confirmed that Hamel’s mother has previously put money on Audet’s account, though no one affiliated with McGann has done that. Audet also confirmed that Hamel never admitted to the murder or to placing the hammer in the sewer.

Juror excused, others speak with judge

One of the 16 jurors was excused from the trial on Monday, a day after learning of the death of a cousin who was airlifted for medical treatment late last week. Before the proceedings began, she appeared masked and tearful in front of Judge John Agostini and apologized that her grief would make it too difficult to continue as a juror at this time.

“Please don’t be sorry,” Agostini replied, thanking her for her willingness to perform her civic duty. He explained there are still 12 deliberating jurors and three alternates, so the woman’s absence will have no effect on the trial.

After lunch on Monday, Agostini received notes from two jurors, who were ushered separately into the courtroom to speak with the judge. One juror explained she was walking back to the courtroom and someone in a passing vehicle said, “I see you.” She said she wanted to make the judge aware because she did not know if the person — who she did not see — was connected to the families in the case.

The other juror told Agostini he had realized shortly before lunch that he had worked at the Market Basket supermarket in Athol for roughly one year with a man mentioned by witnesses on the stand. Both jurors assured Agostini they could still carry out their responsibilities and both were allowed to remain as jurors following no objection from the attorneys.

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

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

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