State wants judge to compel murder suspect to unlock cellphone

  • Keith D. Hamel, right, begins to stand to exit Franklin County Superior Court on Monday afternoon. Defense attorney John Morris stands at left. Hamel is accused of killing 26-year-old Leominster resident Kelsey Clifford. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI


Staff Writer
Published: 2/24/2020 10:15:26 PM

GREENFIELD — The state has filed a motion to compel the Athol man accused of killing a 26-year-old Leominster woman last year to enter a passcode to unlock his cellphone, which prosecutors believe may contain evidence.

Keith D. Hamel, 23, is alleged to have killed Kelsey Clifford, whose body was found Nov. 11 near the locked gates of the entrance to the Athol Wastewater Treatment Plant with at least 15 stab wounds to her head and face.

Hamel and defense attorney John Morris appeared in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday afternoon as Chief Trial Counsel Jeremy Bucci, who is prosecuting the case, made his case in front of Judge Mark D. Mason, who said he would take the motion under consideration.

Bucci said Hamel had the cellphone when he was arrested. Hamel reportedly told officers he had purchased it a few days beforehand. Bucci also said Hamel used the phone to text an officer who later called him.

Morris told Mason the state believes the phone is likely to contain evidence but said “‘likely’ is not reasonable doubt.” Bucci responded that the state has demonstrated probable cause to believe there is evidence on the phone.

Hamel was arraigned in Orange District Court in November before his Jan. 15 arraignment in Franklin County Superior Court after the case was transferred due to its severity. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, one count of armed robbery, two counts of misleading police and four counts of tampering with evidence. If convicted of murder in the first degree, he would serve a minimum sentence of life without parole.

According to a statement of alleged facts by the prosecution, after Clifford’s body was found, police discovered Hamel’s sweatshirt in a bush on Leonard Street, between the crime scene and his Silver Lake Street home. Clifford’s blood was on the outside of the sweatshirt and Hamel’s DNA was on the inside of a sleeve. Hamel’s DNA was also recovered from Clifford’s body.

The statement by the prosecution also alleges Hamel lied to investigators when questioned Nov. 11, telling them he did not have a phone the day of the murder and that he had been with a juvenile girl during a car ride with Clifford early that morning. He allegedly repeated the lies the next day.

According to the statement, investigators learned Hamel damaged his phone and had deleted Facebook messages between himself and Clifford. Investigators also learned Hamel was alone with Clifford the day of the murder.

Hamel was arrested Nov. 18, at approximately 4:40 p.m. on Main Street in Athol. At the time of Clifford’s death, Hamel had eight open adult criminal dockets pending in Orange District Court. He 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.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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