Joshua Hart and Brittany Smith
ATHOL — A 23-year-old suspect in the murder of a 95-year-old Orange man came to this area from Pennsylvania where he had many run-ins with authorities.
In fact, the Northumberland County Court had an outstanding bench warrant for Joshua Hart’s arrest related to a Dec. 2 hit-and-run accident, according to the Daily Item newspaper of Sunbury, Pa.
Because of the warrant, Orange police called the Northumberland County Sheriff’s Office after arresting Hart in connection with an Oct. 2 car theft, a few days before the murder of Tom Harty and assault on his wife, 77-year-old Joanna Fisher during a home invasion at 581 East River St..
Hart has faced various charges in Northumberland County, stemming back to March 2011. According to the Daily Item, he spent time in county prison in 2015 and was part of the county’s drug treatment court.
But Northumberland Chief Deputy Sheriff Randy Coe said Thursday that when authorities in Massachusetts called about the bench warrant on Oct. 3, an on-call night deputy decided the minor violations in Pennsylvannia underlying their current warrant were not severe enough to justify the cost and resources needed to have Hart extradited from New England.
Coe said the Northumberland County Sheriff’s Office takes responsibility for the decision not to have Hart extradited.
Subsequently, Orange District Court Judge David S. Ross released Hart and his girlfriend and alleged accomplice, 27-year-old Athol resident Brittany E. Smith, on personal recognizance following their Oct. 4 arraignments in Orange District Court in connection with the car theft.
She was charged with larceny of a motor vehicle and he was charged with being an accessory after the fact.
Local authorities alleged that the next day, Oct. 5, the pair invaded Harty’s home, killing the 95-year-old and severely injured Ms. Fisher.
The suspects, who were apprehended over the weekend in Virginia, are to be arraigned on murder and related charges today at 11:30 a.m. in Orange District Court.
Eager to leave
Hart and Smith were desperate to get out of the state following the car theft arrest two days before the murder, according to two people who had earlier opened their home to them.
Sara Newton and Baron Spencer, who live on Sanders Street in Athol, said they let Hart and Smith stay with them for roughly a month before ousting them the morning of the home invasion for not financially contributing. Newton said she is friends with Smith, who once dated her cousin. Newton and Spencer said the suspects stayed in their apartment until the car theft arrest and returned to stay a while longer after being released on personal recognizance. Hart and Smith, the renters said, left on the morning of Oct. 5.
“I know she’s a heroin addict and she uses people,” Newton said of Smith.
Newton and Spencer said they don’t know why Hart and Smith would do what they are accused of doing.
Athol Police Lt. Kevin Heath said his department is familiar with Hart and Smith.
“We know them. We have, in the past, had dealings with them,” he said. “They’re known to this department.”
Orange Police Chief Craig Lundgren said community members are relieved the suspects have been apprehended.
“That’s the feeling that I’m getting,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time for us to get over this, as a community. But at least people are breathing a little easier today.”
Lundgren said his department was not familiar with Hart until the car theft arrest, though Smith had three minor vehicle offenses stemming from one vehicle stop in 2010.
According to docket sheets from Courts of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania, Hart has since 2011 pleaded guilty to charges of knowingly participating in the manufacturing/distribution of a designer drug; retail theft, taking merchandise; two counts of theft by unlawful taking, moveable property; criminal trespass, breaking into a structure; criminal mischief, damaging property intentionally, recklessly, or by negligence; simple assault, and providing false identification to a law enforcement officer.
Hart and Smith are now facing charges of murder, attempted murder, home invasion, armed robbery, larceny and conspiracy.
Both were arrested by the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia on Saturday morning when Sgt. Scottie Sorrells located the two suspects in a U-Haul truck at the Rockbridge County Wal-Mart and took them into custody for being fugitives from justice on vehicle larceny warrants issued by Massachusetts, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Harty and Fisher’s stolen vehicle was recovered in a different location in Virginia.
Pennsylvannia records show Hart was born in that state, while information from the Athol Town Clerk’s Office, show Smith was born in Greenfield and raised in Athol.
According to court documents, on Oct. 2 police received a report of the theft of a 2006 Chevy Aveo from Smith’s great-grandmother from King James Court in Orange.
The Orange police investigation eventually led them to Smith, according to court records.
According to police, Smith confessed to having tea with her great-grandmother and then taking the car keys without permission. She told police she picked up Hart and drove to Fitchburg to buy heroin, according to the police report.
The pair were arraigned and released on Oct. 3.
You can reach Domenic Poli at:
email@example.com or 413-772-0261,
ext. 258. On Twitter @DomenicPoli
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