Defense seeks to suppress information in Orange double murder case


For the Gazette

Published: 06-30-2017 12:29 AM

GREENFIELD — A hearing on a motion to suppress information has been scheduled in the case of an Athol couple accused of a double homicide in Orange last year.

The hearing is scheduled to start Sept. 25, and the trial is slated for April 2018.

Joshua Hart, 24, and Brittany Smith, 28, appeared in Franklin County Superior Court Thursday afternoon for a pretrial hearing in front of Judge Daniel Ford. Brian E. Murphy, Hart’s defense attorney, filed the motion to suppress information that doesn’t relate directly to Joanna Fisher’s death.

The two are accused of killing 95-year-old Thomas A. Harty during an Oct. 5, 2016, home invasion at 581 East River St. and causing fatal injuries to Fisher, Harty’s 77-year-old wife. Fisher died five weeks after the attack, due to complications from her injuries.

Chief Trial Counsel Jeremy Bucci with the Northwestern district attorney’s office said the defense wants to suppress statements made by the defendants, but did not clarify.

Bucci, who is prosecuting the case, said the hearing on the motion to suppress will likely last until Sept. 27. On Thursday, Bucci also raised the possibility of holding the trials of Harty and Smith concurrently with two separate juries in the same courtroom. He acknowledged that this is quite rare, though it would be easier for the out-of-state witnesses and experts he is trying to recruit. He told Ford the trials could last from one week for both defendants to two weeks for each of them.

Both defendants were brought into the fourth-floor courtroom in handcuffs. Hart wore a white shirt and Smith was wearing a purple sweatshirt.

On Thursday, a final pretrial conference was scheduled for 2 p.m. on March 12, 2018.

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The victims’ family members and friends sat quietly during the hearing.

Dennis Koonz, who identified himself as Fisher’s son-in-law, told the Recorder the victims’ family is grateful for the thoroughness of the district attorney’s office, though the lengthy legal process is tiring and frustrating.

In Harty’s death, Hart and Smith were originally charged in Orange District Court on Oct. 14 before being 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 home invasion.

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 housed at Franklin County Jail, while Smith is being held in the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center 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.

Prosecutors allege the suspects wanted to steal Harty and Fisher’s vehicle to flee and start a new life, 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 enter 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 started 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, Bucci previously said. Fisher told authorities her female attacker tried unsuccessfully to fatally slit her throat and asked the male attacker for help suffocating her. This, too, failed to kill her. Harty was suffocated with a pillow.

Prosecutors allege the suspects ransacked the home in search of cash 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 learned the suspects had disabled the house phone and had stolen Harty’s cell phone. Health care workers called the authorities after finding Fisher during a regularly scheduled visit at roughly 9 a.m. on Oct. 6. 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 captured in Virginia and admitted to authorities they had armed themselves before entering 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 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 elsewhere in Virginia.

Domenic Poli can be reached at