Orange double murder trial: Smith guilty of murder in the first degree

  • Murder defendant Brittany Smith and her lawyer Mary Ann Stamm appear in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday, April 30. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz


For the Gazette
Published: 5/7/2018 9:24:27 PM

GREENFIELD — Brittany Smith is guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree, each of which carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

The 29-year-old Athol woman shook and wept Monday as the Franklin County Superior Court jury delivered guilty verdicts on eight indictments, including those for armed robbery and motor vehicle theft.

The jury concluded that Smith participated in the murder of Thomas Harty, 95, and fatally wounded his 77-year-old wife, Joanna Fisher, on Oct. 5, 2016, at the couple’s 581 East River St. home in Orange.

Her co-defendant, Joshua Hart, 25, of Athol, was also convicted of the murders in his Superior Court trial last month.

Smith and Hart will be sentenced at 2 p.m. on Thursday at the Franklin County Justice Center.

“We are grateful for the hard work and thoughtfulness of both juries,” prosecutor Jeremy Bucci said after the seven-day trial concluded. “We hope these convictions help to bring the wonderful Fisher and Harty families a measure of closure.”

The jury — nine women and three men — accepted the prosecution’s narrative of events, in which Smith and Hart “stalked” the victims, looking through their windows late at night.

Smith and Hart were desperate to get a car and money and get out of town. They needed to find elderly victims they could overpower, Bucci said.

Members of the Fisher and Harty families were grateful for the verdict.

“We appreciate the hard work the state police did, the prosecution and the investigators,” said Fisher’s son, Donald “Larry” Fisher.

Fisher was partially paralyzed due to a spinal stroke and in a wheelchair at the time of the attack. Diligent about her exercises, she was making steps toward learning to walk again. She was found the day after the attack by a Catholic Charities nurse who arrived to make a plan for continued “ambulatory therapy” with Fisher.

Harty was still working as a tool salesman at 95 years old, had hiked the Grand Canyon dozens of times and was planning another trip there with a friend. His daughter, Kathleen Harty, recalled his health as “nearly perfect.”

“We’re very happy the jury took the time to deliberate and come to the right decision,” Larry Fisher said, adding that the family is waiting to see the mandatory minimum of life-without-parole for both Smith and Hart enforced.

Arrested two nights before the home invasion and charged with motor vehicle theft, Smith and Hart decided to commit the brutal attack and flee the state to avoid the consequences of their arrests.

Smith, a heroin addict, and Hart, who had multiple warrants for his arrest from Pennsylvania, were facing court-ordered drug treatment and jail time, respectively.

“I want to thank you, not only on behalf of the parties and the court, but, most importantly, on behalf of your fellow citizens,” Judge John Agostini told the jurors, who ruled unanimously.

Smith’s lawyer, Mary Ann Stamm, placed a hand on her client’s shoulder before Smith was led out of the room in handcuffs.

Evidence against Smith and Hart was plentiful. During the trial, Bucci played surveillance footage chronicling Smith’s and Hart’s movements during their failed flight.

Shortly before the attack, Smith and Hart can be seen walking past a gas station toward the victims’ home — an Orange police officer and Smith’s uncle testified they saw defendants walking, too.

Then, footage shows the victims’ car pull up to the gas station later in the night, stop and let out Hart, who ran inside to buy cigarettes.

Smith and Hart were captured on film in multiple department stores, where they used the victims’ credit cards, before they were arrested in Rockbridge County, Va. They both gave taped confessions to police, which Bucci played during their trials.

“This is the face of indifference,” Bucci said during his closing argument last Friday.

After spying on the victims through a window — during which time Smith left fingerprints on a screen — Smith and Hart entered the home with at least one knife and a wrench.

Hart instantly stabbed Harty multiple times, and Harty died seated in his recliner. Smith threw Joanna Fisher from her wheelchair.

Smith then attempted to slit Fisher’s throat, beat her and tried to smother her with a pillow. Before leaving, Smith and Hart closed the curtains in the living room and disabled all the phones in the house, preventing Fisher from being able to call for help. Fisher died about a month later from her wounds.

“That is profoundly cruel, that is astonishingly cruel and atrocious,” Bucci told the jury.

That Hart was the one who physically murdered Harty was never in dispute, but because Smith and Hart coordinated in what was legally a “joint venture” Smith is guilty of both murders.

The jury found that Smith should get two convictions of murder in the first degree — just like Hart — because the murders were “extremely cruel and atrocious,” premeditated and committed concurrently with other felonies, burglary and armed robbery.

Members of Harty’s and Fisher’s families embraced outside the courtroom following the verdicts, while Smith’s family remained inside.

Stamm was unable to be reached following Monday’s verdict.

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