Orange double homicide: Hart guilty of murder in the first degree 

  • Joshua Hart in Franklin County Superior Court during his murder trial on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • A composite image of Thomas Harty, left, and Joanna Fisher, right. The jury found Hart guilty of murder in the first degree of Harty, because the murder occurred during the execution of an “underlying felony.” Contributed photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/13/2018 3:10:32 PM

GREENFIELD — Joshua Hart was convicted Friday on two counts of first degree murder in the 2016 double homicide of an elderly Orange couple.

Each count carries a minimum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The jury found Hart, 25, of Athol murdered Thomas Harty, 95, and fatally wounded his wife, Joanna Fisher, 77, during an Oct. 5, 2016, invasion of the couple’s home in Orange at 581 East River St.

“I want to thank you,” Judge John Agostini told the jury. “Not only on behalf of the parties and the court, but also on behalf of your fellow citizens.”

Hart was convicted of all seven indictments against him: the two murders; the attempted murder of Joanna Fisher — who died about a month after the attack from her wounds; two counts of armed robbery; larceny of a motor vehicle and the fraudulent use of credit cards.

Hart, wearing a dress shirt and tie, stood, expressionless, while the verdict was read. He was immediately handcuffed and led out of the Franklin County Justice Center courtroom.

Family and friends of Harty and Fisher embraced following the verdict, some with smiles on their faces, some with tears in their eyes.

“We’re glad the jury took the time and made the right decision, and we’re hopeful that the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment will be imposed,” said Fisher’s son, Larry Fisher, when contacted Friday afternoon.

Larry Fisher also expressed gratitude for the work of Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci, who prosecuted the case, and the police and investigators.

“A measure of justice was served in this case. Two innocent lives were lost to senseless and brutal acts of the defendant,” District Attorney David E. Sullivan said in a statement.

“We are thankful for the thoughtful attention and deliberations of the jury,” he added.

Defense lawyer Brian E. Murphy declined to comment. He asserted throughout the trial that his client’s girlfriend, Brittany Smith, had committed the murders and that Hart, who was “madly in love” with Smith, helped her steal and “clean up” and then provided false confessions to police to protect her.

Smith, facing the same charges, is expected to go on trial April 23. She has pleaded not guilty.

Smith, 29, of Athol is being represented by Attorney Mary Ann Stamm who has declared her intention to file motions on April 17, and wishes to be granted a change of venue.

Lead prosecutor Bucci declined to comment, citing the upcoming Superior Court trial of Smith, whom he will be prosecuting.

Hart is expected to be sentenced on May 10 at 2 p.m., following the conclusion of Smith’s case.

The verdict was unanimous. The jury found Hart guilty of murder in the first degree of Harty, because the murder occurred during the execution of an “underlying felony.”

The underlying felonies were armed robbery and burglary. Hart confessed to the crimes during recorded interviews with Virginia and Massachusetts police. Hart and Smith were apprehended in Rockbridge County, Va., having been tracked by Massachusetts State Police.

The nature of the attack on Fisher also prompted the jury to categorize her murder as first degree.

“(It was) deliberately premeditated and extremely cruel and a felony murder,” read the jury’s statement.

Fisher, who used a wheelchair due to partial paralysis from a spinal stroke, was thrown to the ground in the attack. After stabbing her multiple times, Hart stood on her chest in an effort to push the air out of her lungs, according to evidence presented in the trial.

The jury referred to audio and video evidence, as well as testimony from the victims’ family, police, a medical examiner, a DNA expert, K-9 handler and forensic scientists during its deliberations, which took approximately eight hours over Thursday and Friday.

In his confession, Hart stated he entered the home with the intention of stealing the victims’ car, money, valuables and of running away with Smith.

The two had been arrested two nights before the home invasion. Hart, who had warrants for his arrest out of Pennsylvania, said he and Smith, a heroin addict on the verge of being court-ordered into treatment, wished to escape the consequences of the prior arrest.

When they entered the home, Hart immediately grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and attacked, he said.

“I stabbed (Harty) and pushed him back,” Hart recounted. “She (Fisher) started screaming, so I stabbed her in the neck. The knife got stuck, and I couldn’t get it out.”

Other evidence was a black hooded sweatshirt that Hart wore on the night of the murders, which was found to have Harty’s blood on it.

Hart’s rosary beads were also photographed at the crime scene near Harty’s body as evidence — Harty a skilled hiker despite his age, had fought back against Hart, and ripped the beads from Hart’s neck.

According to Bucci, much of the physical evidence used to convict Hart will also be presented during Smith’s trial.


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