Judge considering motion to access employment records in Mount Holyoke prof’s case

  • SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2020 1:33:16 PM

GREENFIELD — Franklin County Superior Court Judge John Agostini said he expects to quickly render a decision on the state’s motion to obtain the employment records of Rie Hachiyanagi, the Mount Holyoke College professor accused of using a fire poker, rock and pruning shears to attack a colleague in the alleged victim’s Leverett home nearly a year ago.

An unidentified third party advised the state to request the employment records. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Thomas, who is prosecuting the case for the state, said during a hearing Tuesday that the records could “show some kind of modus operandi or state of mind of the defendant.” Modus operandi is a Latin term meaning mode of operating, or someone’s habits of working.

Attorney Thomas Kokonowski, representing Hachiyanagi, argued that the state’s motion is “extremely broad, if not overbroad.”

“(It) looks like they are looking for her entire personnel file or any discipline with other professors or people at Mount Holyoke College. I also noticed that it seems to be an unnamed person, without a very specific date or situation that they are looking for,” Kokonowski told Agostini, adding that the third party and Hachiyanagi are Mount Holyoke College colleagues and this person was not found by police in their investigation. “And, if I read the commonwealth’s motion correctly, they’re looking for a different motive or more motive, which I have argued from the beginning either makes no sense or does not exist.”

Hachiyanagi, 49, of South Hadley, pleaded not guilty in Franklin County Superior Court in February to three counts of armed assault to murder a person age 60 or older, three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on a person age 60 or older, and single counts of mayhem, home invasion and entering a dwelling at night for a felony.

According to a report from Massachusetts State Trooper Geraldine Bresnahan, the alleged victim told police Hachiyanagi arrived at her Leverett home unannounced late at night on Dec. 23, 2019, saying she “wanted to talk about her feelings.” After being invited inside, Hachiyanagi allegedly attacked the victim, striking her with multiple implements including “fists, rocks, garden clippers and a fire poker.” All objects were recovered by investigators.

The alleged victim told authorities she believed Hachiyanagi was going to kill her. The police report states that when the victim asked Hachiyanagi why she was attacking her, she said it was because “she loved her for many years and (she) should have known.” Bresnahan’s report also states the victim lied about having reciprocating feelings and convinced Hachiyanagi to stop the attack and call 911.

Kokonowski stressed he does not think Thomas is acting in bad faith and said he appreciates Thomas’ honesty.

“The commonwealth’s motive so far has been unrequited love,” he said. “My client is held without the right to bail based in part on that being put forward, and now I’m seeing that the commonwealth is looking to see these records, apparently after talking to this person a year ago.

“I think it is a not-bad-faith fishing expedition,” he added.

Agostini also allowed the defense’s unopposed motion for the alleged victim’s ambulance records.

Thomas and Kokonowski are expected to review physical evidence on Wednesday as part of what Thomas called these “strange and uncertain times.”

Agostini asked the attorneys if they had an inkling of when a trial could begin.

“I know the trial court has some moving expectations in regards to when the case can be tried. I’m optimistic we’ll be ready when the court is ready,” Thomas responded.

But Kokonowski explained safety protocols put in place in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 have inhibited his ability to adequately serve his client. He said last week was the first time since March, when the state started coronavirus restrictions, that he had a private, unrecorded conversation with Hachiyanagi “without having to talk on telephones, which I do not trust, without having to hold up documents to the glass for my client to look at while the camera is trained on us.

“There are sensitive things that I have not given to my client and I have not held up to that glass because, as you probably know, judge, our ethics hotline notoriously does not commit to what can and can’t be done,” he added. “I think I have gone through all of the documents that I’ve been given by the commonwealth. I have not been able to go through them in any … important way with my client at this point, and I’m very concerned about that. I can tell you right now that I’m not ready for trial.”

Agostini said he was asking because he expects Hachiyanagi’s case to be a priority when trials do begin.

“We do not know when we will be able to try a jury of 12 individuals. It could be as early as April, May. It could be June, July. It could be September,” he said. “I think it’s going to be in that timeframe.”

Hachiyanagi, a native of Japan, is an art professor at Mount Holyoke College, where she has worked since 2004, according to her Mount Holyoke College web page, which states her specialization is installation, performance, and paper-making. She is on unpaid leave during these legal proceedings and has been ordered not to step foot on the Mount Holyoke College campus. A pretrial conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. on March 16.


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