Saturday April 27, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- A district court judge is deciding whether to unseal impounded documents related to the August 2011 murder case in which authorities allege a local Hells Angel and two others kidnapped and killed three Pittsfield men.

In Central Berkshire District Court on Friday, the Berkshire District Attorney's Office and lawyers for the defendants asked Judge Fredric D. Rutberg to continue to keep secret the documents related to 18 search warrants from the police investigation into the killings. The impoundment orders, dating from September through October in 2011, are set to expire Tuesday.

The Eagle is seeking to lift the impoundment orders. On Friday, the newspaper's attorney argued that search warrants are "presumptively public" documents.

Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless argued that the impoundment should stay in place because the documents contain facts of "a highly inflammatory nature" that have not come out publicly. He said that releasing the information to the public would hamper his office's ability to prosecute the case, impede the ongoing police investigation, and could prevent the defendants from receiving a fair trial.

Rutberg did not say when he would make his decision. He could decide to release all, some or none of the documents.

Adam Lee Hall, who police say was a ranking member of the local Hells Angels chapter, along with David Chalue, 46, of North Adams, and Caius Veiovis, 32, of Pittsfield, are charged with the kidnappings and murders of David Glasser, Edward Frampton and Robert Chadwell in August 2011. A fourth defendant, David Casey, 64, of Canaan, N.Y., was charged as an accessory after the fact. All four have pleaded not guilty and remain behind bars.

Authorities say Glasser was killed to prevent him from testifying against Hall in an upcoming trial, and the other two men allegedly were killed to prevent there being any witnesses in the Glasser slaying.

Capeless said the move to end the impoundment could force the trial out of Berkshire County, which wouldn't be fair to the victims' families and friends who would have to travel for the proceedings.

"There's already been a motion for a change of venue," he told the court, referring to a request by the defendants' lawyers.

The district attorney said this case is about people being killed for being witnesses, and it would make it harder for the prosecution to get witnesses to cooperate if their names were made public.

Hall's attorney, Alan J. Black, said if the impoundment orders were lifted, it could prevent his client from getting a fair trial.

"The publicity in this case is already tremendous," he said.

Capeless attempted to have Friday's proceedings held in private because, he said, he would be revealing details from the impounded search warrants. He also argued that attorney Peter C. Alessio, representing The Eagle, shouldn't be allowed to speak because while he was an "interested party," he isn't directly involved in the case.

Rutberg kept part of the proceedings open to the public and allowed Alessio to argue for lifting the impoundment orders.

Alessio opened his argument by quoting an 1884 decision by famed jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., written when Holmes was a justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Court: "Those who administer justice should always act under the sense of public responsibility, and every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed."

Alessio also cited a 2011 state Supreme Judicial Court decision, Commonwealth v. George W. Prescott Publishing Company, in which the court, among other things, reiterates that search warrants are "presumptively public" after they have been served and then filed back in court.

The justices found that materials "filed with a court to support the issuance of a search warrant not only shed light on the functioning of law enforcement agencies, but also provide a means of understanding the court's decision to issue a warrant."

Alessio said the impoundment orders should not be based on the convenience of the prosecution or witnesses, but rather only on whether releasing the information would prevent a defendant from getting a fair trial. He agreed there already was a lot of local publicity in the case, but said jurors shouldn't be picked on their ignorance of a case, but rather on their ability to be fair and impartial in their decisions.

Rutberg said "impoundment is always the exception" and not the rule. The judge said the search warrants are now 18 months old and that his decision would be based on how releasing the information would affect the case "in the future."

Hall, Chalue and Veiovis have pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of murder, kidnapping and witness intimidation and have been held for more than 19 months in jail without bail. Casey, who allegedly was intimidated by Hall into helping to bury the remains of Glasser, Frampton and Chadwell with his excavator, remains in jail on $1 million bail.

It is alleged that Hall, Chalue and Veiovis kidnapped, killed and dismembered the victims, and then disposed of their remains in garbage bags that later were discovered buried on private property in Becket.

To reach Andrew Amelinckx:
aamelinckx@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6249.
On Twitter: @BETheAmelinckx