Westhampton man pleads not guilty in vandalism of Northampton’s bronze owl statue


  • A photo of “The Queen of Main Street” taken shortly after the bronze owl was knocked off its perch on the night of June 19, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Restoration artist Steve Roy of Hopewell Junction, New York, left, and artist David Boyajian of New Fairfield, Connecticut, weld “The Queen of Main Street” bronze owl statue back onto its Northampton perch Aug. 10, 2017 after it was vandalized in June 2017, according to police. The Main Street statue was created by the late sculptor Gregory Stone. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • “The Queen of Main Street” bronze owl statue by the late sculptor Gregory Stone undergoes repairs Aug. 10, after it was broken off its perch at the legs in June.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 4/3/2018 4:35:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Westhampton man denied a charge Tuesday that he vandalized a beloved bronze owl statue on Main Street last summer.

Joel G. Morin, 32, pleaded not guilty in Northampton District Court to a charge of vandalizing property.

The sculpture, called “The Queen of Main Street,” was broken off its perch at the legs on the night of June 18. The statue made its debut in September 2012 and pays tribute to longtime Northampton businesswoman Eva Trager’s legacy and also honors those who helped contribute to the revitalization of Northampton with plaques that are installed biennially.

Northampton Police allege that Morin grabbed the owl and violently shook it back and forth, causing it to break. It cost around $1,500 to put the owl back in place. Repairs were paid for by the Eva Trager Memorial Fund.

Filing charges in the case took nine months as police conducted numerous interviews and reviewed surveillance footage from a nearby business. Morin is currently serving a 6-month sentence at the Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center on an unrelated probation violation. The center is a correctional facility run by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office.

Police obtained surveillance footage from TD Bank on Sept. 7, 2017, and were able to observe a group of five to six people hanging out around the statue, then three more arrive in a car. Police identified three of the people in the video and questioned them about that June night. The interviews led officers to question a fourth person and eventually Morin.

“Mr. Morin was very forthcoming and indicated that he had in fact broken the statue over the summer,” Northampton police wrote in court documents. “He indicated that he could not recall all of the details of that night but recalled that he was in a group of people who were somewhat horsing around when they were getting ready to leave the area of Main Street. As they were getting ready to leave, he stated that he jumped up and grabbed the branch portion of the statue and hung on it as if he was jumping on a light post.

“Mr. Morin indicated that he did not realize that there was anything attached to the top. Once he jumped up and grabbed onto the statue the owl portion fell off striking the ground,” the court documents state.

Interviewed in March, Morin allegedly told police he did not purposefully break the sculpture, and once it was broken didn’t think much of it because he was unaware of its significance and figured it was just “some sort of ‘artsy’ sculpture,” according to court documents. He allegedly offered to pay restitution for the damage but acknowledged he does not have a job lined up when he is released from custody.

Police also received a tip from a man in December who told officers he was recently incarcerated with Morin and that Morin admitted to the vandalism, according to court documents.

In court Tuesday, Morin told Judge W. Michael Goggins that he would “like to see if we can deal with this today.” Morin represented himself during the proceedings.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Robert Opsitnick told the court he was not prepared to discuss the case further as he needed to review the video surveillance and investigative interviews. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for May 11.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.
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