Athol couple pleads innocent to second murder charge

  • Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith File photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/14/2017 6:02:19 PM

GREENFIELD — The Athol couple charged with killing 95-year-old Thomas A. Harty during an Oct. 5, 2016, home invasion in Orange pleaded innocent Friday to murder charges in the death of Harty’s wife during the same incident. The two appeared in Franklin County Superior Court in Greenfield to enter their pleas.

Joshua Hart, 24, and Brittany Smith, 28, are accused of causing the death of Joanna Fisher in an attack that prosecutors have previously described as brutal and savage. Fisher, 77, died on Nov. 10, 2016, due to complications from her injuries.

In Harty’s death, Hart and Smith were arraigned on murder and other charges in Greenfield in October after the two were indicted by a Franklin Court grand jury in December.

The indictment in Fisher’s death was handed down on March 31 after the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined Harty’s wife died from injuries sustained in the assault at 581 East River St.

According to Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, the combined charges both face include: two counts of murder, two counts of home invasion (one naming each victim), two counts of armed robbery (one naming each victim), conspiracy, larceny over $250, larceny of a motor vehicle, receiving stolen property, and unauthorized use of a credit card.

Hart and Smith continue to be held without bail. Hart is being house at Franklin County jail while Smith is being held in Hampden County jail in Chicopee.

If convicted of murder in the first degree, the defendants face a mandatory sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole.

The victims’ family members sat quiet and stone-faced during the arraignments. Both defendants were brought into the courtroom in handcuffs. Hart wore a white shirt and Smith was wearing a purple sweatshirt.

Larry Fisher, Joanna Fisher’s son, said the lengthy legal process is exhausting for the family, but he is pleased the district attorney’s office is being thorough.

According to a previous statement from Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, prosecutors allege the suspects wanted to steal Harty and Fisher’s vehicle to flee, because they had been arrested days earlier on car theft charges. Hart, who had warrants in his home state of Pennsylvania, wanted to avoid jail and Smith, a heroin addict, did not want to go to drug treatment, according to the district attorney. The suspects targeted a home with an older model vehicle that did not have tracking technology, according to the statement.

Prosecutors allege the suspects entered the victims’ home through a door off the garage and immediately began attacking the victims, who were watching television, around 7:30 p.m. on Oct 5. Fisher was struck in the head with a hard object and pushed out of her wheelchair, prosecutors allege.

Both victims were beaten and stabbed during the home invasion, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, according to Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci. Fisher told authorities her female attacker tried unsuccessfully to fatally cut her throat and asked the male attacker for assistance suffocating her. This, too, failed to kill her. Harty was suffocated with a pillow.

Prosecutors allege the suspects ransacked the home in search of money after the attack and then fled, taking the victims’ credit and debit cards and the keys to a Toyota Matrix.

According to the prosecutors, after the attackers fled, Fisher crawled to attempt to call for help, but the suspects had disabled the phone and stolen Harty’s cell phone. Health care workers discovered Fisher during a regularly scheduled visit at roughly 9 a.m. on Oct. 6 and called the authorities. Fisher described to police the appearance of her attackers before she was LifeFlighted to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

A card stolen from Fisher was used to make a debit transaction at a Worcester-area Wal-Mart within hours of the attackers fleeing. They were seen on video surveillance, and officers involved in the investigation recognized the man and woman as Hart and Smith, who also matched Fisher’s description.

According to prosecutors, Hart and Smith were apprehended in Virginia and admitted to authorities they had armed themselves before entering the the victims’ home. Both said Hart murdered Harty and tried to help Smith kill Fisher, prosecutors said.

After the murder, Hart and Smith were arrested without incident by the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia when Rockbridge Sgt. Scottie Sorrells found the suspects in a U-Haul truck at the Rockbridge County Wal-Mart and took them into custody for being fugitives from justice on vehicle larceny warrants out of Massachusetts, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Harty and Fisher’s stolen vehicle was recovered in a different location in Virginia.


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