Motion hearing for Orange murder suspects postponed until March

  • File photoOrange murder suspect Brittany Smith

  • File photoOrange murder suspect Joshua Hart

Staff Writer
Friday, February 09, 2018

ORANGE — A hearing for Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith, the two suspects being held in connection to a violent home invasion in October 2016 in Orange has been postponed.

The motion hearing originally planned for Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield has been postponed until until Friday, March 2, at 9 a.m., in the same location. This is a continuation of two previous hearings held at Franklin Superior Court in Greenfield in December in which attorneys for the two suspects argued for the suppression of evidence.

In the motion hearings in December, lawyers Brian E. Murphy and Sean Smith, who represent Hart, and Mary Anne Stamm, who represents Smith, have argued against the methods used to extract confessions from their clients at the time of their arrests, questioning both Lt. Steven Funkhauser of the Rockbridge County, Va. Sheriff’s Department, which apprehended the two suspects after they went on the run, and Massachusetts State Police Trooper Stephen Bushay.

The lawyers argued that Funkhauser and Bushay had each used a soft approach and invoked religion when interviewing Hart to coax a confession out of him. Stamm also argued that Smith had no prior criminal history before she stole her great-grandmother’s car the prior week so she could drive to Fitchburg to buy heroin.

According to court records, Hart and Smith are alleged to have broken into the home of 95-year old Thomas Harty and his wife, 77-year old Joanna Fisher, on East River Street, on the evening of Oct. 5, 2016, in the hopes of securing means to escape the area to avoid prosecution on previous charges of breaking and entering in Athol, as well as the theft of Smith’s grandmother’s car as a means to support Smith’s heroin addiction.

Harty and Fisher were both beaten and stabbed by the assailants in an attack that lasted two hours. Harty succumbed to his wounds, while Fisher died a month later at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

The two were arrested without incident in a Walmart parking lot in Western Virginia, where they were found inside a rented U-haul truck three days later. In his interview with police, Hart admitted to having targeted Harty and Fisher because of the older model Toyota, which he thought would be harder to track.

The two were indicated by a grand jury in Franklin Superior Court and at their arraignments in January 2016, both suspects plead not guilty.

Combined, the two suspects face two counts of murder, two counts of home invasion (one naming each victim), two counts of armed robbery (one naming each victim), conspiracy, larceny over $250, larceny of a motor vehicle, receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of a credit card. They also face charges of breaking and entering and larceny over $250 in connection to earlier incidents.

If convicted of murder in the first degree, the defendants face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Separate trial dates for Hart and Smith are tentatively scheduled for April in Franklin Superior Court.

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