Man killed in Northfield fire was defendant in child sexual assault trial 

  • Authorites have identfied the person killed in a garage fire at 90 East Street in Northfield on Sunday as William M. Willey, 47, of Montague. Willey had been on trial in Franklin County Superior Court for alleged child sex assaults at the time of his death. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 11/15/2022 2:53:49 PM
Modified: 11/15/2022 2:53:47 PM

NORTHFIELD — The person who died in a garage fire on East Street Sunday night has been identified as Montague resident William M. Willey, a man who was scheduled to appear in court the following day for his trial on 19 charges related to alleged child sexual assaults.

Willey, 47, was identified by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Monday, according to a statement from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. The origin of the fire and the exact cause of Willey’s death remain under investigation.

The Northfield Fire Department responded to the area of 90 East St. at about 7 p.m. Sunday evening, according to a statement from Jake Wark, spokesperson for the Department of Fire Services. Upon arrival, firefighters found heavy smoke and flames at a single-story repair garage. The garage, which appeared to have burned to the ground, and an adjacent storage garage were each deemed a total loss by Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III. The repair garage was a shop rented by Willey, “whose car was parked at the property and whose body was later discovered amid the rubble,” according to the DA’s office.

Willey faced seven counts of aggravated rape and abuse of a child, one count of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older, two counts of dissemination of matter harmful to a minor, five counts of furnishing alcohol to a person under 21 and four counts of furnishing marijuana to a person under 21. The charges involved three separate victims with crimes alleged to have occurred in both Montague and Northfield between 2019 and 2020. Willey pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Willey was originally arraigned in Greenfield District Court in October 2020, but the case was transferred to Franklin County Superior Court due to its severity. He posted $30,000 bail and was released. Willey’s conditions of release included having no unsupervised contact with anyone under 18 and immediately notifying the probation department if he changes his residence.

The trial began with jury selection last Tuesday, presided over by Franklin Superior Court Judge Karen Goodwin. Opening statements and witness testimony began Thursday. Court was in recess Friday due to the Veterans Day holiday, and planned to resume Monday. Monday’s proceedings did not convene as scheduled. While the case is scheduled to reconvene in Franklin County Superior Court at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the jury is expected to be dismissed from service.

“This is a tragedy for everyone involved, including the victims in the case, one of whom had testified in court last week and another two and their family members who were set to testify this week,” said Assistant District Attorney Anne Yereniuk, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant District Attorney Andrew Covington.

Defense attorney Aliki Recklitis from the Committee for Public Counsel Services was representing Willey and could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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