Athol man charged with murder

  • Keith Hamel, who was arraigned on a charge of murder Tuesday, is shown being led March 20 to an awaiting police cruiser by Athol Police Officers Erick Fredette and K9 Officer Craig Deveneau. Hamel was arrested in March on Exchange Street in Athol and was expected to face several charges including being a fugitive from justice, two counts of assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and possession of a Class B substance. Staff Photo/DEBORRAH PORTER

  • Friends and relatives of Kelsey Clifford gathered for a vigil Sunday night to remember the Athol homicide victim. Staff Photo/GREG VINE

  • A picture of Kelsey Clifford with her young son adorned a table at Sunday’s vigil. Staff Photo/GREG VINE

  • Friends and relatives of Kelsey Clifford gathered for a vigil Sunday night to remember the Athol homicide victim. Staff Photo/GREG VINE

  • Keith Hamel COURTESY Photo/NORTHWESTERN DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/19/2019 8:01:57 PM

ORANGE — The Athol man accused of killing a 26-year-old Leominster woman last week was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty to murder in Orange District Court on Tuesday.

Keith Hamel, 23, was arraigned wearing a white T-shirt and stood in a side room separated by glass eight days after Kelsey Clifford’s body was found near the locked gates of the entrance of the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant with stab wounds to the left side of her face and behind her left ear.

The courthouse in downtown Orange was swamped with journalists from news outlets from as far away as Boston, and with friends and family members of the victim and suspect.

Hamel is being held at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction in Greenfield. He is set to appear in court again on Feb. 14.

Clifford’s friends and family arrived at the courthouse immediately after attending a funeral Mass for her and a luncheon in Leominster. Brian Campbell, Clifford’s uncle and godfather, said the family was determined Tuesday to keep out negative thoughts and to fondly remember “what a wonderful person she really was.” He told reporters about trips to Walt Disney World Resort and weekend family excursions.

“When she was 6 years old, the smile on her face when we came over the hill in Florida and saw the Disney Cruise for the first time — priceless,” he said, adding that people’s love for his niece was made evident by the line of awaiting mourners that stretched around the corner at her wake Monday.

Campbell, who said he delivered the eulogy at the Mass, said Clifford’s family has made a commitment to care for Clifford’s 4-year-old son.

Cousin Shiane Cordio described Clifford as free-spirited.

“And I do not believe that any time they give Keith is going to be justice enough at all. And I want to look into his eyes and see if he has a soul because, how can you do that to somebody?” she said, breaking down in tears. “Meanwhile, Keith’s going to sit here and he gets three square meals a day and a bed that he gets to sleep in a warm place. I don’t care if it’s jail, prison. He still gets to live his life.”

Cordio said she last saw Clifford at Clifford’s son’s fourth birthday party two weeks ago.

Cordio’s father, Marshall Cordio, described Hamel as “an animal.”

“No matter what he gets, it ain’t enough,” he said outside the courthouse before the arraignment. “Hey, I want the death penalty, period. And even then, that’s not enough.”

Defense attorney John Morris, who is representing Hamel, told reporters his client is “adamant he didn’t do it.”

According to a statement from the Athol Police Department, authorities received a call at 6:59 a.m. on Nov. 11 reporting a vehicle at 69 Jones St. with all its doors open and possibly a person on the ground outside the vehicle.

Officers Donald Hager, Scott Dubrule and Albert O’Lari responded to the scene with Athol Ambulance. They found a woman lying face down in the grass with her pants pulled down to her ankles and her lower body exposed.

The woman was identified as Clifford, the owner of the parked gray Acura RSX, which appeared to have blood on it, according to the statement.

Ambulance personnel pronounced Clifford dead at the scene.

Detectives with the Massachusetts State Police were contacted about the suspicious death.

Medical Technician Kymm Bryce observed severe trauma to Clifford’s face, though it was unknown what was used to make the puncture wounds, according to the Athol Police Department’s statement.

During an investigation, authorities learned Clifford was with Hamel in the early hours of Nov. 11. Hamel is the last person known to have seen Clifford alive.

Video surveillance was recovered from the Cumberland Farms at 297 Main St., according to the statement. Hamel is reportedly seen exiting the passenger’s side of Clifford’s car at approximately 1:30 a.m. Hamel is seen on video going into the store and purchasing cigarettes. Hamel returned to the vehicle, which then left the area.

According to the statement, a witness contacted Athol Police at roughly 4:35 p.m. on Nov. 11 to report she had located a sweatshirt in a bush on Leonard Street in Athol (within a mile of where Clifford’s body was found) and that it appeared to be stained with blood. State Police took possession of the sweatshirt, which was found between the crime scene and Hamel’s residence on Silver Lake Street. It was learned that the sweatshirt carried the DNA of Hamel and Clifford.

Hamel was arrested Monday, Nov. 18, at approximately 4:40 p.m. on Main Street in Athol.

Hamel has previously been charged with larceny under $1,200, being a fugitive from justice on a court warrant, resisting arrest, possession of a Class B drug, and two counts of assault and battery on a police officer.

A candlelight vigil was held Sunday near Clifford’s former home in Leominster, where about 80 family members and friends gathered.

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




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