Prosecution calls DNA expert as witness in Orange murder trial

  • Joshua Hart appears in Franklin County Superior Court for his murder trial on Thursday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Friday, April 06, 2018

GREENFIELD — Is it possible for someone to leave no detectable trace of their DNA behind at a crime scene?

Prosecuting attorney Jeremy Bucci posed that question to a DNA analyst witness on the second day of trial in the 2016 Orange double murder case. According to Kira Snyder, who has analyzed DNA at the Massachusetts State Police crime lab since 2007, the answer is yes.

Joshua Hart, 25, of Athol is charged with the murder of Thomas Harty, 95, and fatally wounding Harty’s 77-year-old wife, Joanna Fisher, on Oct. 5, 2016, at the couple’s 581 East River St., Orange, home. He has pleaded not guilty.

While evidence and blood samples were taken from multiple areas of the house, Hart’s DNA could not be detected in any such sample.

The defense has asserted that Hart’s co-defendant Brittany Smith, 29, of Athol is responsible for the two murders, and that Hart, who Murphy said was “madly in love” with Smith, only helped her steal from the victims and “clean up” after the attack.

DNA evidence was shown to the 14-person jury and Judge John Agostini Friday in the Superior Court case currently being deliberated at the Franklin County Justice Center in Greenfield.

Bucci, chief trial counsel for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, pressed Snyder on the matter, who said that the absence of a positive DNA match with someone does not necessarily mean the person was not present where the sample was collected.

Bucci asked Snyder if the chair she testified from would have a detectable DNA sample that positively matched her after she got up and left.

“I would expect a mixture on this chair,” Snyder said.

Many of the evidence items analyzed for DNA, including a black sweatshirt with Harty’s blood on it, were found to have a mixture of DNA, including DNA that could be confirmed as having come from an unknown male.

However, several of the DNA samples, including the one from the black sweatshirt, were deemed to be “not suitable” for a positive match due to the complexity of the mixed sample.

Nonetheless, the defense took the opportunity to highlight the lack of DNA evidence against Hart.

“(There was) no evidence of Mr. Hart’s DNA in any of the rooms around the house, correct?” asked Attorney Sean Michael Smith, a member of Hart’s legal defense team.

“That’s correct,” Snyder answer.

Murphy expressed content Friday afternoon after his client was not matched to any of the DNA samples. The samples were taken from clothing and different areas of Harty and Fisher’s home, including from the area of the recliner Harty was found deceased in — the prosecution alleges that Hart stabbed Harty multiple times while he was seated.

“The trial is going as expected,” Murphy said. “And Mr. Hart is looking forward to the jury concluding that, while he was unfortunately involved in the incident, he is not responsible for the two murders.”

Murphy asserts that Hart wanted to “spend the rest of his life” with Smith — who has also pleaded not guilty — and that Hart provided a false confession to police when the two were caught in Rockbridge County, Va., in order to protect her.

The prosecution and defense agree that Smith is a heroin addict, and that her desire to avoid being court-ordered into treatment may have led to her and Hart carrying out the home invasion in order to get money, a car and flee the state together.

Hart and Smith had been arrested two days before the murder for car theft, and the prosecution has noted Hart had warrants for his arrest from Pennsylvania, and that the two may have been trying to run away from the consequences of that arrest.

The two were found in a rented U-Haul vehicle after being tracked by Massachusetts State Police. Harty and Fisher’s Toyota Matrix was found abandoned at the U-Haul rental facility.

Several articles of clothing from a bag in the vehicle were analyzed for DNA. Brittany Smith’s DNA was confirmed to match the DNA found on a pair of gray sweatpants in the bag, which also contained the sweatshirt with Harty’s blood on it.

Bucci said the audio recordings of Hart’s interviews with police — during which he confessed — will be played after the trial picks up on Tuesday.

Agostini told the jurors Friday he expects them to begin their deliberations Thursday or Friday. Smith will be tried following the conclusion of Hart’s case.

Reach David McLellan at
dmclellan@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 268.