Jury selection begins in Athol murder trial

  • Keith Hamel, who is accused of murder and other charges, in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Keith Hamel, who is accused of murder and other charges, arrives in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Keith Hamel, who is accused of murder and other charges, in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Defense attorney Joshua Hochberg, standing, and Keith Hamel, who is accused of murder and other charges, in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Assistant District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber, standing, and Keith Hamel, who is accused of murder and other charges, seated, in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2022 5:35:09 PM
Modified: 8/22/2022 5:31:37 PM

GREENFIELD — Jury selection began Monday in the case of Keith D. Hamel, the man accused of killing a 26-year-old Leominster woman in November 2019 and leaving her body near the locked gates of the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant’s entrance.

Judge John Agostini welcomed 70 potential jurors to Franklin County Superior Court and introduced himself, explaining to them the critical nature of the responsibility they could be tasked with. Hamel, 25, of Athol, was present in the courtroom, as he has a right to participate in the selection of the 16 jurors. He has been held without bail after pleading 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. Attorneys involved in the case predict the trial will begin Thursday.

Agostini told the potential jurors the entire trial process is expected to “take about 10 days or so,” with the court being closed Sept. 5 for Labor Day. He explained the trial will include a jury view, in which the jurors will be transported by police-escorted bus to certain locations — including the area where the victim’s body was found — that are relevant to the court case.

Hamel is accused of killing Kelsey Clifford on Nov. 11. Her body was found that same day with at least 15 puncture wounds to her head and face. 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, to get access to her cellphone to delete evidence of a sexual encounter between the two.

“These are allegations. These are only allegations,” Agostini stressed to the potential jurors. “The defendant has denied these allegations.”

Agostini, who said he has been a judge for more than 20 years, also mentioned that everyone, without exception, inevitably enters a courtroom with certain opinions, viewpoints and biases.

“We’re not looking for jurors who have none of these, because none exist,” Agostini said, adding that he simply wants any selected jurors to remain open-minded and do their best.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber are prosecuting the case for the state. Joshua Hochberg is representing Hamel. All the attorneys introduced themselves to the potential jurors on Monday.

Before the potential jurors entered the room, Bucci told Agostini that crime scene photographs will not be displayed on the courtroom’s screen but rather handed to anyone called to the witness stand so as to spare attendees from the images’ gruesome nature.

Hochberg objected to his client being supplied with a pen stripped down to its ink chamber and tip. Agostini said this is in line with the Franklin County Justice Center’s protocol, as defendants have used pens as weapons. But he said he would take Hochberg’s objection under consideration.

As background, Agostini wrote in September 2021, there is evidence that, during the period that the murder likely occurred, Clifford was carrying a considerable amount of cash from her job as an exotic dancer. She always carried her cellphone and, on the day before her death, a picture of her was posted to Facebook using her phone. She was generally unfamiliar with Athol, the judge wrote.

Clifford woke up in her boyfriend’s apartment, where she was staying, at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, a few hours before she was killed, and realized he and another man had left the apartment to party with Hamel and Hamel’s girlfriend at the defendant’s apartment, according to Agostini.

“Angry conversations then ensued regarding this event,” Agostini wrote.

There is evidence that Clifford drove the defendant to Cumberland Farms in Athol at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 11 to buy cigarettes with his money. Cell tower records indicate Clifford was driving away from Athol but came back minutes prior to going to Cumberland Farms with the defendant, indicating Hamel called her for a ride.

“In fact, the defendant admitted to the police that he did not have money that night except for $50 from a sale of marijuana,” Agostini wrote, noting that Clifford was typically paid in cash in her line of work.

Between 7 and 8 a.m., Hamel dropped off $18 to a man to repay him money he had borrowed. Later that day, Agostini wrote, the defendant had at least $200 on his person to purchase cocaine.

Hamel’s sweatshirt, which was found between the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant and his apartment, was found to have Clifford’s blood and Hamel’s DNA on it. Also, saliva and DNA matching that of the defendant were recovered from Clifford’s body.

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


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