Prosecution rests in Athol murder trial

  • Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci has Massachu-setts State Trooper Daniel Paras identify a flash drive with surveillance footage pertaining to the Keith Hamel murder trial. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Defendant Keith Hamel and his defense attorney Joshua Hochberg watch video clips from surveillance footage from various locales in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Kelsey Clifford, 26, appears on surveillance footage in Athol Spirits on the night of the murder in November 2019. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Keith Hamel appears on surveillance footage in the Athol Cumberland Farms on the night of murder of 26-year-old Kelsey Clifford. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/31/2022 5:51:17 PM
Modified: 8/31/2022 5:51:05 PM

GREENFIELD — The state on Wednesday rested its case against Keith D. Hamel, the Athol man accused of killing a 26-year-old woman nearly three years ago, and now the defense has the opportunity to call its own witnesses and present evidence on Hamel’s behalf.

Hamel, 25, is accused of using a claw hammer to murder Kelsey Clifford in the early hours of Nov. 11, 2019, and leaving her body near the locked gates of the Athol Wastewater Plant. He is also alleged to have stolen $400 in cash and a cellphone from the victim after she was dead to delete evidence of a sexual encounter between the two.

Hamel has pleaded not guilty in Franklin County Superior Court 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. Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Jeremy Bucci and Joseph Webber are prosecuting the case for the state. Hamel is represented by attorney Joshua Hochberg.

The state started Wednesday’s session by calling to the witness stand Christina Owen and Jessica Hart, two Massachusetts State Police crime lab employees who analyzed evidence in this case.

Owen said she responded to the Athol Police Station on Nov. 11, 2019, and processed DNA from the persons of interest in the case. She testified that the following day she visited the crime scene to collect more evidence. Owen stated she processed the cigarette butt found in Clifford’s hand, as well as the sweatshirt the state contends belonged to Hamel and was found by a woman walking her dog on Leonard Street, which is between the wastewater treatment plant and where Hamel was living on Silver Lake Street. Prosecutors say the sweatshirt had Hamel’s DNA and Clifford’s blood on it. Saliva and DNA matching that of Hamel were also recovered from Clifford’s body.

Owen testified that she also processed a white belt Hamel is seen wearing in surveillance footage. The belt was found near the sweatshirt and it tested positive for non-visible blood. Owen also said the driver’s side of Clifford’s 2005 Acura RSX, which was found parked near her body, had blood stains on it.

During cross-examination, Hochberg had Owen confirm that no one processed the clothes Clifford was wearing when she was murdered.

Hart testified that she responded to the crime scene and gathered evidence. She said no human DNA was found on either of the claw hammers taken into evidence by authorities, though Owen had previously mentioned that DNA can be washed off over time.

The alleged murder weapon was recovered from a sewer grate at the corner of Ridge Avenue and Union Street in Athol on Jan. 28, 2021. The claw hammer was found via a map drawn by one of Hamel’s fellow inmates, who testified Tuesday that Hamel described to him the tool’s whereabouts and advised him to draw a map but tell jail officers the information came from Kevin McGann, Clifford’s boyfriend who testified on Monday. During cross-examination, Hochberg established that Hamel worked in roofing and siding, and it would be normal to find his DNA on a claw hammer.

Christopher Kelly, director of the digital evidence laboratory for the state Attorney General’s Office, testified that Hamel had used his cellphone for a final time on Nov. 11, 2019, at 3:19 a.m. He said there was activity on Clifford’s phone at 7:06 a.m., though she had been dead for hours at that point. Prosecutors maintain that Hamel initially lied to authorities about not having a phone the day of the murder. Kelly also mentioned there is evidence Hamel and Clifford had sent each other messages via Facebook Messenger but there were no correlating messages located.

Kelly confirmed for Hochberg that there are at least two ways of deleting messages and that it is possible Clifford’s phone could have been delayed due to a technical issue or lack of internet.

State Police Trooper Daniel Paras later walked the prosecution through various surveillance footage depicting Hamel, Clifford, Hamel’s girlfriend and other individuals.

The trial is slated to resume in Franklin County Superior Court on Thursday at 9 a.m., with jurors entering the courtroom at 9:30.

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


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