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Defense lawyer: Murder suspect was ill when confession was given

  • Brittany Smith enters Franklin County Superior Court Wednesday morning. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Superior Court Judge John Agostini listens to Massschusetts State Trooper Stephen Bushay answer questions from one of the prosecuting attorney Jeremy Bucci during proceedings today in the murder trials of Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith in Franklin County Superior Court. December 13, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Superior Court Judge John Agostini listens to Mass State Trooper Stephen Bushay answer questions from one of the prosecuting attorney Jeremy Bucci during proceedings today in the murder trials of Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith in Franklin County Superior Court. December 13, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Joshua Hart enters in Franklin County Superior Court Wednesday morning. December 13, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Brittany Smith enters Franklin County Superior Court Wednesday morning followed by Joshua Hart. December 13, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Joshua Hart listens to his arrest statements in Franklin County Superior Court Wednesday morning. December 13, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Brittany Smith, sitting at left between her lawyers, and Joshua Hart, sitting to the left of his lawyers, listen to their statements being played aloud in Franklin County Superior Court Wednesday morning followed by Joshua Smith. December 13, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—



Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 14, 2017

GREENFIELD — Lawyers for the couple accused of a double homicide in Orange last year continued to question how police elicited the confessions central to their case during court proceedings Wednesday.

Audio recordings of Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith separately confessing to their alleged roles in the 2016 deaths of the elderly couple were central to the proceeding in Franklin County Superior Court before Judge John Agostini.

The attorneys representing Joshua Hart, 25, and Brittany Smith, 28, questioned the way statements were obtained by Lt. Steven Funkhouser of the Rockbridge County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office and Massachusetts State Trooper Stephen Bushay. Wednesday’s proceeding was a continuation of a hearing that began Monday.

Sean Smith and Brian Murphy, representing Hart, and Mary Anne Stamm, representing Brittany Smith, scrutinized the methods Bushay used in talking with the suspects.

Hart’s attorneys questioned Bushay’s mention of religion during his conversation with Hart, and Stamm mentioned that Brittany Smith, during her interview with Bushay, was sick from having eaten fast food.

Hart and Smith, who were present both days, stand accused of killing 95-year-old Thomas A. Harty during an Oct. 5, 2016 home invasion at 581 East River St. and causing fatal injuries to Harty’s 77-year-old wife, Joanna Fisher. Fisher died five weeks after the incident, due to complications from her injuries.

Hart and Smith also allegedly ransacked the home in search of cash after the attack and fled, taking the victims’ credit and debit cards and the keys to a Toyota Matrix. They were apprehended by the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia.

After Brittany Smith’s interview was heard, Sean Smith began asking Bushay about his career. Bushay said he has been with the State Police for six years and was previously a member of the Orange and Erving police departments. Sean Smith asked how many trainings he had attended as a trooper and Bushay estimated about 12.

Sean Smith asked Bushay if he would ever try to “manufacture” a confession or promise leniency to a suspect in exchange for one. Bushay said he would not.

Sean Smith asked Bushay if he had heard of the “now-or-never technique” of interrogation, in which a law enforcement official suggests to a suspect that the present moment is the only opportunity to come clean, and Bushay said he had not.

As the questioning of Bushay continued, Sean Smith turned his direction toward faith. In the recorded interview, the conversation between Bushay and Hart briefly touched on religion. Hart said he was raised Catholic. Funkhouser of the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office, too, raised the issue of faith while interviewing Hart, telling the suspect the truth was good for one’s soul. This was heard on Monday.

Sean Smith also asked Bushay, as Murphy had asked Funkhouser on Monday, if he ever video-records his interviews with suspects. Bushay said he does not because he feels that is impractical.

Stamm asked Bushay if he changed to a sympathetic tone during the interview with Brittany Smith to finagle a confession and Bushay said his sympathy was natural. Stamm also reminded the court that Smith had no criminal record before stealing her great-grandmother’s car, to buy heroin in Fitchburg, days before the murders. Stamm also said Smith was sick during her interview with Bushay, but Bushay said she did not appear ill.

Brittany Smith smiled at three people in the front row of the fourth-floor courtroom upon entering the room. She appeared to mouth “I love you” when being ushered out for a 15-minute recess and sent a woman an air-kiss when being taken out at the end of Wednesday’s proceedings.

Agostini is scheduled to hear arguments about the motion to suppress on Dec. 27.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 258
On Twitter: @DomenicPoli