Brittany Smith (hereinafter, the “Defendant”), 29 years of age of Athol, was found guilty yesterday in a Home Invasion turned deadly case in Franklin Superior Court. The crime took place in Orange in October, 2016. As a result of the violent Home Invasion, two people died according to the Commonwealth. The victims were a 95-year-old man and his 77-year-old wife, Thomas Harty and Joanna Fisher. Mr. Harty died at the scene while Ms. Fisher, who used a wheelchair, died several weeks later.
The Defendant was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder.
The Defendant is the second person convicted in the case. Her boyfriend, 25-year-old Joshua Hart, was convicted last month.
Both face sentencing on May 10th.
According to Boston.com,Authorities say the pair wanted to steal a car and money so they could leave Massachusetts to avoid charges in unrelated cases.
You may be wondering why there had to be two trials in this matter, where the defendants were charged with the same crime.
There are a number of specific circumstances wherein defendants arrested together for the same crime must have separate trials. They all basically come down to a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
You see, although defendants may be charged with acting jointly in a case, each one is entitled to a fair trial individually. This is not always a problem, but it often is.
“But what if the defendants are charged with a Conspiracy? You’ve often talked about one person being liable for a co-conspirator’s actions because they were acting in a joint enterprise.”
This is true. However, that does not mean that all the evidence can be brought in against each defendant.
For example, everybody is familiar with the word “hearsay”. Hearsay evidence is basically evidence of an out-of-court statement being offered for the truth of the matter that is contained in said statement. That’s the basic rule. However, there are always exceptions.
One such exception is a statement by a party opponent of the case. The prosecution gets a bonus here. A complainant or witness testifying against a criminal defendant is not a party. In criminal cases, the state, or federal, government is the party. Just try to call “the government” to the stand to answer for something somebody said. As you can imagine, there is no such person.
“What about someone working in law enforcement in the case? For example if you wanted to question a prosecutor or police officer about a statement one of them made?”
They are individuals. They are not the “Commonwealth”…even though you will hear the judge call them “Commonwealth”.
No, the defendant pretty much stands alone in this position. Of course, anything that the defendant is reported as saying can be brought into evidence. This rule exists regardless of how many defendants are in a given case. However, if one defendant made a statement that inculpates the other defendant, that can be a problem.
For example, Defendant A and Defendant B are arrested for a murder. Defendant B made a statement to police that Defendant A held the victim down while he, Defendant B, chopped off the victim’s head.
Clearly, the prosecution wants to bring that statement in. Defendant B has essentially made a confession to murder. However, Defendant A made no such admission. The statement is admissible against Defendant B, but not Defendant A.
Therefore, the prosecution has to choose between not using the statement against Defendant B or not trying the two defendants together.
I don’t actually know the particular specifics of the Defendant’s case, but it is likely a similar reason, if not the exact one, for there being two trials.
Often, in a strategic decision, the prosecution will try to make a deal with one defendant so that said defendant will simply testify against the other. In terms of our example, Defendant B would have had to make a deal with the prosecution to actually testify that he saw Defendant A hold the victim down.
Reporting on what one sees is always admissible.