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Cases dropped against Montague Plains 7

DA’s office plans to bring matter to new sitting of Grand Jury

GREENFIELD — The prosecution has dropped the case against the seven co-defendants variously charged with kidnapping, beating, and threatening a man in March after four of the defendants filed motions to dismiss the charges against them, citing the conduct of the prosecutor.

The four challenged the indictments returned against them by a grand jury in the spring, accusing Assistant District Attorney Michael McHale of leading the police witnesses and misrepresenting the facts to the jury.

In dropping the charges, the DA’s office nonetheless said it “elects to re-present the matter to a new sitting of the Franklin County Grand Jury to address the concerns raised in the defendants’ filings in this case.”

One of the defense lawyers, Susan M. Tombs, accused McHale of spoon-feeding words to the Montague Police officers called as witnesses in the grand jury proceedings.

“We cannot comment beyond that which is stated in the nolle prosequis” paperwork, First Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne said through district spokeswoman Mary Carey when asked for comment on McHale’s handling of the case and whether the office intends to re-prosecute the seven. Wendy Podlenski in the superior court clerk’s office said the rule of double jeopardy does not apply when prosecutors drop charges, as it would if the judge dismissed charges.

Tombs followed the prosecution’s filing with an objection, asking the judge to instead rule on the motion to dismiss the charges against her client, but no hearing date had been set as of Thursday.

A grand jury had indicted the seven with varying lists of charges in relation to an incident March 21 in which Branden Stebbins, then 19 and homeless, told police he was kidnapped from the Energy Park in Greenfield, taken to a Turners Falls residence at the time shared by three of the defendants, beaten, then driven into the Montague Plains.

Stebbins told police and later said at the arraignment that he managed to free his duct-taped wrists with a pocket knife, jump out of the moving car and run to safety after one of the accused, Johny R. Lopez, allegedly threatened to rape and kill him.

According to the account given at the arraignment by the prosecutor and in defendants’ statements to the police, the incident resulted from an accusation by a 14-year-old girl that Stebbins hit her while on a date and sent her a picture of himself bare-chested. Stebbins denied that the date ever took place and said the picture was sent in error.

Seth J. Lemieux, 18, of 119 River Road, Gill, and Marcus E. Thompson, 28, of 88 Frank Williams Road, Shelburne Falls, both faced charges of kidnapping and conspiracy.

Gina Artruc, 45, of 40 Old Stage Road, Westfield, and Dawn Shafer, 44, of 126 Union St., Westfield, both faced charges of kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and battery and two counts each of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

The remaining three defendants did not file for dismissal, but the prosecution dropped the cases against them also, citing the concerns raised in their co-defendants’ filings.

Robin Shafer, 25, of 140 High St., Greenfield, was accused of kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery.

Kyle Holden, 19, of 97 East Main St., Northfield, faced charges of kidnapping, conspiracy and assault and battery.

Lopez, 29, of 144 Seventh St., Turners Falls, faced charges of kidnapping, conspiracy, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, and threatening to commit a crime.

In the case of Lopez, the decision not to prosecute also meant the repeal of a warrant for his arrest as a fugitive from justice issued in September.

All seven were arraigned and released on personal recognizance in March.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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