Hart, Smith get life without parole for Orange double murder

  • Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith of Athol were sentenced Thursday for the killings of Thomas Harty and Joanna Fisher of Orange in 2016. POLICE PHOTOS

  • Brittany Smith, 29, of Athol is sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the murders of Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife, Joanna Fisher, 77, during an Oct. 5, 2016 attack in the couple's 581 East River St. home in Orange —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci asks the Superior Court to give Brittany Smith, seated in purple, and Joshua Hart, seated with striped tie, sentences of life imprisonment without parole for the murders of Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife Joanna Fisher, 77. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife, Joanna Fisher, 77, were murdered by Joshua Hart, 25, and Brittany Smith, 29, during an Oct. 5, 2016 attack in the couple's 581 East River St. home in Orange. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Brittany Smith, seated in purple, awaits her sentence for the murders of Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife, Joanna Fisher, 77, while her co-defendant, Joshua Hart, is led away in handcuffs, having been sentenced to life in prison without parole. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Don Harty prepares to address the court Thursday at the Franklin County Justice Center about the murders of his father, Thomas Harty, 95, and stepmother, Joanna Fisher, 77. Convicted killer Joshua Hart is at right in the background, with striped tie. RECORDER STAFF/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Lucinda Costa gives her impact statement about the murders of her mother, Joanna Fisher, 77, and stepfather, Thomas Harty, 95, and asks for the convicted killers Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith to be given sentences of life imprisonment with parole. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Joshua Hart, 25, of Athol is sentenced to life imprisonment without parole Thursday at the Franklin County Justice Center in Greenfield for the murders of Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife, Joanna Fisher, 77. His accomplice, Brittany Smith, is seated at right between her attorneys. RECORDER STAFF/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Judge John Agostini gives Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith each two sentences of life imprisonment without parole for the Oct. 5, 2016 murders of Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife, Joanna Fisher, 77. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

For the Gazette
Published: 5/10/2018 6:01:27 PM

GREENFIELD — Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith will spend their lives behind bars for murdering an elderly couple in Orange.

Judge John Agostini gave Hart, 25, and Smith, 29, both of Athol, two life sentences without the possibility of parole, to be served consecutively in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Framingham.

Hart and Smith, who were convicted of first-degree murder at trial, were stone-faced when sentence was passed at the Franklin County Justice Center.

“This crime strikes at the very core of all of us. We all have parents. We all see our parents age. We all live alone,” Agostini said.

Agostini said he found Hart and Smith were indifferent to their “evil” crimes, which they confessed to during audio recorded interviews with police following their arrests.

On Oct. 5, 2016, the pair crept into the 581 East River St. home of Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife Joanna Fisher, 77, killed Harty and fatally wounded Fisher.

Agostini said he did not accept the defenses offered by Hart’s lawyer, Brian Murphy, that Hart merely “helped” Smith, or Smith’s lawyer, Mary Ann Stamm, who said drugs drove her client to murder.

Families’ statements

Before sentencing, Harty and Fisher’s family members expressed the loss they felt and the anger they still hold.

Harty, whose daughter said was in “nearly perfect” health, still worked as a tool salesman at 95. He was getting ready to hike the Grand Canyon, which he had hiked dozens of times before.

Fisher was in a wheelchair due to a 2013 spinal stroke. Diligent about her exercises, and with the help of her husband, she was learning to walk again, determined to do so without assistance.

Fisher was supposed to make plans with her Catholic Charities nurse, Cindy Sumner-Moryl, for continued “ambulatory therapy,” when Sumner-Moryl arrived for a scheduled visit the day after the attack.

But Harty’s hike and Fisher’s therapy never happened. Hart and Smith, armed with at least one knife and a wrench, entered the couple’s home, stabbed them, attempted to suffocate them and even stood on Fisher’s chest to push the air out.

Sumner-Moryl arrived the next day and found Fisher on the floor, her husband dead in his chair close by. Fisher died a month later from her wounds.

In court, family members said there’s no getting over the crimes.

“It consumes my mind every day,” said Fisher’s youngest child, Lucinda Costa, who said she has missed important life events because of the last year and a half in courtrooms.

“I can imagine my mom saying, ‘Shouldn’t you be at work?’” Costa said.

Everyone expects to lose their parents, especially elderly parents, Costa said, but not because they are murdered. The death penalty, Costa said, is what Hart and Smith really deserve.

Karen Herk, Harty’s granddaughter, remembered her grandfather as a loving man who would take her hiking, and insisted he would live until exactly 106 years old.

“The backbone of our family is gone,” Herk said. “Two selfish people maliciously murdered him.”

Smith, a heroin addict, and Hart, with warrants for his arrest from Pennsylvania, had been arrested two days before the home invasion for motor vehicle theft. They were scared they’d face court-ordered drug treatment and jail time, respectively, and decided to find an elderly couple to overpower, steal their car and money and flee the state.

They were eventually arrested in Rockbridge County, Va., having been tracked by Massachusetts State Police, who were mapping fraudulent usage of the victims’ credit cards, as well as cellphone tower signals.

But while their attorneys broadly described the attack as an armed robbery gone wrong, Smith and Hart never made any demands of the victims. They instantly attacked them, stabbing Harty in the neck and throwing Fisher to the floor.

Jack Harty, who was raised by Thomas Harty’s mother and considered him his brother, said he probably would have helped Smith and Hart, generously giving them money if they had asked.

“If he had $10 and you needed $5, he’d give you $10,” Jack Harty said.

Kathleen Koonz, Fisher’s daughter, talked about the influence the couple had on so many lives. She played a video of her late mother and stepfather before the court.

“I want to thank Joanna for being such a great wife and so good to me,” Harty said in the video, describing how Fisher became an avid hiker with him.

Perhaps the most emotional statements came from Harty’s son Don, who detailed his “hatred” for the two “individuals,” not deigning to call them humans.

“Thomas Harty was my father, and he’s still my hero,” Don Harty said.

“(Harty and Fisher) were just the best people,” he said, before turning to point at Hart and Smith. “They are the worst people.”

Don Harty made it clear that he wouldn’t use a certain word to describe Smith, because he promised his wife he would not. Still, his wrath was obvious.

“It’s my hope that anyone surrounding them going forward reminds them that they’re evil,” he said.

“First of all, it’s unfortunate their parents didn’t practice birth control,” he added. “If anyone should never have come into this world, it’s those two. They’ve never done anything good in their life.”

He said Hart and Smith, deserve the death penalty, although Harty and Fisher would not have supported it. He also said Smith left two more victims by having her two children.

Don Harty said he hopes the children will do well, and called it ironic that they will be eligible for the Let Them Shine Fund, which Harty had set up to help orphans and disadvantaged children.

Going forward

Agostini denied Stamm’s motion to allow Smith to stay in Franklin County for three more weeks to see her two children, and said Smith’s family are also victims.

Hart and Smith have 10 days to appeal their guilty convictions, and 20 to appeal their sentences.

After the sentencing, Assistan Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci said he believes any appeals will be unsuccessful.

“This will be the day of reckoning,” Bucci said.

Bucci thanked the police and investigators in the case, and also the Harty and Fisher families.

“The only thing they have asked for (is about the process),” Bucci said.

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