Five witnesses called to stand for Orange murder trial

  • Murder defendant Brittany Smith and her lawyer Mary Ann Stamm in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday, April 30, 2018. RECORDER STAFF/PAUL FRANZ

  • Murder defendant Brittany Smith is flanked by her lawyers Bruce Green and Mary Ann Stamm in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • State Police Detective Tom Bakey testifies about cell tower analysis and tracking during the murder trial of Brittany Smith in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Murder defendant Brittany Smith in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Hon. John Agostini presides over the murder trial of Brittany Smith in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday, April 30, 2018. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/30/2018 8:13:57 PM

GREENFIELD — A detailed walk-through of the murder scene and reiteration that neither suspect’s DNA was found there highlighted Monday’s testimony in Brittany Smith’s trial in the double homicide of an elderly Orange couple.

Five witnesses took the stand to testify about their professional involvement in the case during the second day of Smith’s trial in Franklin County Superior Court.

Testimonies given at Smith’s trial were similar — sometimes identical — to those given at the trial of co-defendant Joshua Hart, who was recently convicted on two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Orange residents Joanna Fisher, 77, and Thomas Harty, 95. Hart’s sentencing is set for May 10, and he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Smith, 29, of Athol, sat quietly between her defense attorneys Mary Anne Stamm and Bruce Green as prosecutor Jeremy Bucci brought forth witnesses involved with the murder investigation.

The prosecution alleges Smith and Hart, who were romantically involved, engaged in a “joint venture,” during which they robbed and attacked the victims, taking their car in an attempt to flee Massachusetts and start a new life elsewhere.

The prosecution alleges Smith, a heroin addict, and Hart, who had warrants for his arrest out of his home state of Pennsylvania, wanted to escape potential court-ordered drug addiction treatment and incarceration.

They were caught in Rockland County, Va., after being tracked by Massachusetts police. A Walmart employee recognized Hart and notified police. Hart and Smith then gave audio-recorded interviews to both Massachusetts and Virginia police where Hart confessed to the murders and Smith confessed to some of the crimes, including attacking Fisher. However, Smith has denied all charges including two counts of murder.

Monday’s trial

Monday’s trial began around 9 a.m. and concluded shortly after 1 p.m., beginning a string of days where the trial is expected to last a half-day. Court dates Tuesday and Wednesday also will end around 1 p.m., according to Bucci. Thursday’s and Friday’s court dates are expected to be full days.

After scheduling details were discussed, the jury was seated and the first witness, William Chapman, was called to the stand.

Scent tracking

Chapman has worked with the Phillipston Police Department as a K9 officer for approximately 10 years, working with bloodhounds to track scents. He testified he obtained a pink shirt belonging to Smith from Smith’s mother and grandmother.

After teaching his dog the shirt’s scent, it tracked a trail from Smith’s grandmother’s house to “just past” 581 River St., where Fisher and Harty were murdered. Chapman later clarified that his dog went only about 15 feet past the house, then tracked to the driveway and garage.

Then, the dog went in a circular pattern which indicated “end-of-trail behavior” as though Smith had gotten into a vehicle and left the scene.

In cross-examination, Stamm asked if the dog might have been following co-defendant Hart’s scent if Smith had embraced him. Chapman said it was unlikely.

Cell phone tracking

Sgt. Tom Bakey, a detective with Massachusetts State Police for almost 25 years, was billed as an expert in tracking cell phones. He explained how he tracked the suspects with that technology.

Smith’s mother received a cell phone call from her daughter on a blocked number Oct. 6, a day after the home invasion. Bakey tracked and found the cell tower used to make this call. That led police to believe Smith and Hart were in Virginia, and they notified local police.

A walk through the scene

The lengthiest testimony came from Erica Nadeau, a forensic scientist who works for the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab in Springfield as a supervisor.

Nadeau was one of the responders to the crime scene and extensively documented the house, yard and rooms through video, photographs, reports and notes. The videos were played by Bucci as Nadeau explained what each showed.

Some videos showed disarray inside the home: a bathroom where pill bottles had been dumped into the sink and a four-drawer cabinet in the bathroom where one of the drawers lay on the floor and others were open; a dining room cabinet with its drawers open and contents spilled out.

The videos also showed various handicap aids for Fisher, who used a wheelchair after a stroke three-and-half years earlier: a motorized wheelchair in the garage, a wheelchair in the living room and a rehabilitation device on the enclosed porch.

Harty’s body could be seen in a reclining chair in the living room. Three pillows covered in what Nadeau referred to as “red-brown stains” sat on the floor.

She referred to potential blood stains in the house as “red-brown stains” throughout her testimony, and explained that her job is to test whether these stains are blood. Then, if it is determined to be blood, she completes another test which determines whether the blood is from a human.

After the videos were shown to the jury, Bucci showed detailed photos while Nadeau explained what was depicted in each one.

Pictures showed a cordless home phone on the kitchen table with its battery pack removed. Batteries were found thrown elsewhere in the house.

In the kitchen, a knife block appeared to be missing one or two larger knives. Harty was stabbed in the invasion.

Twenty-nine instances of “red-brown stains” were found, she testified.

Later, three pillows were brought to Nadeau, who donned gloves and pulled them out of evidence bags to show them to the jury.

As a white decorative pillow and white sleeping pillow were brought out separately, some of the audience could be heard gasping.

Nadeau explained that some pieces were missing from the pillows since she cut away some blood-stained fabric to confirm that the stains were, in fact, human blood.

When the two suspects were found and arrested in Virginia, police recovered multiple articles of clothing in a Walmart bag that Nadeau tested for blood. A black Nike T-shirt tested positive for blood and a black hooded sweatshirt also tested positive for blood on the drawstring. A pair of gray and white sweatpants were also tested, but the human blood test came back negative.

DNA testing

The final witness to give testimony Monday was Kira Snyder, a forensic scientist at the DNA Unit at the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab. It was determined previously in Hart’s trial that neither Hart’s nor Smith’s DNA was found at the crime scene, and Snyder reiterated her work to determine this.

She tested the pill bottles found in the bathroom sink and found that there were three existing DNA profiles, but only one — Harty’s — was able to be determined.

The shirt and sweat pants found in the Walmart bag were also tested. For the T-shirt, Snyder found “at least three contributors” but the DNA was “not suitable for comparison due to the quality of the profile.” However, Smith’s DNA was found on the sweat pants.

Reach Christie Wisniewski at: 413-772-0261, ext. 280 or

cwisniewski@recorder.com




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