Holmes pleads guilty to stabbing mother

  • Zachary Holmes, left, listens as Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Suhl recounts his attack on his mother during his plea agreement in Hampshire Superior Court, Monday. Alfred Chamberland, his attorney, is beside him.

  • Zachary Holmes, left, and his attorney, Alfred Chamberland, hug at the close of his plea hearing in court Monday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joann Holmes makes a heart shape with her fingers as her son, Zachary Holmes, does the same after his plea hearing in Hampshire Superior Court Monday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zachary Holmes, left, waits for the start of his plea agreement beside his attorney, Alfred Chamberland, in Hampshire Superior Court, Monday.


  • Zachary Holmes answers questions from Judge Richard Carey during his plea agreement in Hampshire Superior Court, Monday.

  • Joann Holmes speaks during a plea agreement for her son, Zachary Holmes, right, Monday in Hampshire Superior Court. Seated between them is Alfred Chamberland, his attorney.

  • Judge Richard Carey speaks during a plea agreement for Zachary Holmes, Monday, in Hampshire Superior Court.

  • Joann Holmes wipes her eye during a plea agreement for her son, Zachary Holmes, Monday in Hampshire Superior Court.

  • Zachary Holmes, left, and his attorney, Alfred Chamberland, shake hands at the close of his plea agreement Monday in Hampshire Superior Court.

Published: 7/25/2016 5:44:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Joann Holmes’ son, Zachary, was about to take the stand and confess to a judge he stabbed his mother repeatedly on a September evening last year — and right there in the courtroom, all Joann wanted to do was kiss her son on the forehead.

Since Zachary was young, she’d always done it for good luck.

But she couldn’t. And not just because Joann, 54, was seated in the courtroom gallery, and he on the stand. When Zachary, 22, was released from holding last month, he wasn’t allowed to be near his mother as part of the conditions set by a judge.

So Joann resorted to saying it out loud whenever she saw him: “Kiss on the forehead!”

Zachary originally stood accused of attempted murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery following the stabbing incident at his Belchertown home last fall that left Joann seriously injured.

However, Zachary’s attorney Alfred Chamberland and Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl came to Hampshire Superior Court on Monday with an agreed-upon plea deal in which Zachary would just plead guilty only to the two assault charges and receive no jail time. He’d also receive five years of probation with multiple conditions and house arrest for the first six months.

He would also be prohibited from being within 100 yards of his mother. But in six months, the right to supervised visits could be argued in court.

The remaining charges would be dropped as part of the agreement.

He faced a maximum of 12½ years behind bars.

After eight months in jail, Zachary was released last month to an Amherst apartment supervised by the Department of Developmental Services. This was nine months after the man took a knife to his mother’s chest, abdomen and wrists.

But through it all — through the countless court hearings, interviews with investigators, meetings with lawyers, crying herself to sleep night after night — Joann was Zachary’s most ardent supporter and remained steadfast in fighting for his release, repeatedly insisting she never wanted charges brought against her son, who is autistic and developmentally disabled.

“He can’t drive a car, run to the beach or run to the store,” Joann said in an interview Monday. “He has to struggle every day with those boundaries that autism places on him — that’s my pain and suffering. Not what happened on Sept. 3.”

Although a psychologist deemed Zachary competent to stand trial, his family said he often struggled to grasp the proceedings that were unfolding before him.

On Monday, Zachary sat in the back of the courtroom before his hearing. Judge Richard Carey exited the chambers and walked toward the bench.

“All rise,” the clerk announced as Carey entered the room.

“Why do we do this?” Zachary remarked to others around him as everyone stood.

‘I am guilty’

Zachary sat beside his attorney after his case was called and let out a long exhale.

“Oh boy,” he said. “It’s been a long day.”

Once Zachary took the stand, Chamberland sat immediately to his left. Zachary’s answers were succinct, spoken with both enthusiasm and conviction.

“I am guilty, and I admit to what I did,” Zachary told Carey matter of factly.

The man and his attorney took their seats at the table in front of the judge as Suhl addressed Carey.

“A further period of jail time will do nothing for Mr. Holmes as far as deterrence of behavior at this point,” Suhl said. “He obviously needs rehabilitation. He needs these services that a state agency is willing and able to provide him … that will hopefully set him on a strong course of action in his life.”

Chamberland stood to make his final remarks to the judge.

“I would say that we are a very welcoming community here in the Valley,” Chamberland said, his voice fading to a whisper as he choked back tears. “And I think that, not only would Zach benefit from the independence in living here in this community, but the community’s going to benefit from Zach.”

Before Carey announced his decision, Joann was invited to address the court.

“Basically, I come before you today as being called a victim. I guess I don’t think of myself as a victim,” she said. “I don’t call myself a victim. I never have.”

She continued:

“I’m Zachary’s mother. I love him with all my heart,” Joann said. “I am not afraid of my son.”

After Joann took her seat again, the judge looked up at the courtroom.

“I just wanted to note that the case has, in my view, a unique combination of circumstances,” Carey said.

First, he added, Zachary was competent — “That is clear to me.”

Second, the judge said although Zachary lived with the challenges of autism, his condition did not cause this crime.

“Another component this case has, which is too often missing from many, many of the cases that appear in front of me,” Carey said “is the intense love of a mother for her son.”

And with that, Carey accepted Zachary’s plea.

After court, Zachary walked toward the doors with court officers trailing close behind. He held his wrists together, even though he hadn’t worn handcuffs in a month. After nine months of being shuffled between jail and court hearings, the feeling of his cuffed hands became his new normal, Joann later said.

Zachary looked to Joann, who was standing in the gallery.

“I love you, mom,” he said, bringing his hands to his chest in the shape of a heart.

“I love you, too, Zachary,” Joann replied. “Kiss on the forehead.”

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com or 584-5432.

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