Joshua Bressette
Joshua Bressette (Administrator)

NORTH ADAMS -- More than a month after he was found murdered on a Bronx, N.Y., rooftop, the gravestone of Joshua Bressette still doesn't bear his name or the date of his death.

Still awaiting autopsy reports, Bressette's family doesn't know what day he was fatally shot. It's just one of their many questions that remain unanswered.

Bressette's body -- with three gunshot wounds to the back, one to the head -- was found by New York Police Department officers during a routine patrol atop the Gun Hill Houses, a public housing project, on May 8.

Police were unable to identify the body for six days afterward, until his distinct tattoos -- one on his neck read "live fast, die fast" -- matched him to those of the 25-year-old from North Adams, who was reported missing on May 7.

Since his death, no one has been publicly identified as a suspect, and neither the New York Police Department or authorities in Berkshire County have publicly indicated any progress in the investigation into Bressette's murder.

The time span between when Bressette was last seen in North Adams and his death is murky at best, but interviews with family and friends shed some light on the circumstances that may have led to Bressette's death.

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In the months before his murder, Bressette worked for the Berkshire County Drug Task Force as a confidential and reliable informant, according to several sources close to Bressette, including his mother, Kenna Waterman.

Bressette, who according to several interviewed was one of the largest heroin dealers in North Adams, gave information to police that led to at least one arrest. According to several sources involved in the North Adams drug trade and who were close to Bressette, that arrest was Bressette's heroin supplier, and they believe his murder may have been out of retribution.

Officially, law enforcement will not verify if Bressette was cooperating with authorities.

North Adams Police Det. Mark Bailey, who works with the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, said he would never confirm or deny if a person is or has ever been a confidential informant. Bailey declined to be interviewed for this story.

Some friends and family question whether Bressette, in return for the information he allegedly provided to authorities, was adequately protected by police.

But his mother, Kenna Waterman, does not lay sole blame on law enforcement authorities for her son's death.

"I have decided that although the local authorities failed to protect Joshua, when they certainly should have, the reality of the problem was Josh's heroin addiction," Waterman said in a statement to The Berkshire Eagle.

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"I have decided that although the local authorities failed to protect Joshua, when they certainly should have, the reality of the problem was Josh's heroin addiction," Waterman said in a statement to The Berkshire Eagle.n

In September 2013, Bressette was confronted by police, who had conducted several undercover buys of heroin from him while he had been living in an Ashland Street apartment, according to family members. Bressette was offered a deal: Help get drugs off the street or face the charges.

"Josh told me he knew from the start that he had made a horrible mistake by agreeing to do" work as an informant, Waterman said. "The problem was that at the time Josh was in withdrawal and the longer the drug task force kept him, the worse his symptoms of withdrawal became. He told me he would have done anything that they had asked him at this point just so he could leave to get high. I believe that this need to get high cost Joshua his life."

Bressette's information led to the arrest of a major heroin dealer in Northern Berkshire County, according to Waterman and other sources close to Bressette who wished to remain anonymous. Bressette went into hiding from late April to early May of this year.

On May 4, less than 24 hours after his return from hiding to North Adams, Bressette was last seen in the Price Chopper Parking lot. The exact reason why Bressette chose to return to North Adams remains unclear, even to some close to him. But many suspect it was to satisfy his addiction.

As reported in The Eagle, a New York Police Department spokesperson has said the NYPD is not investigating the homicide as a kidnapping, possibly meaning they believe he traveled to New York willingly.

"They should have made sure he stayed [in hiding]," said one source familiar with the heroin trade in North Adams who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They underestimated the whole situation."

This source said when Bressette agreed to be a confidential informant, authorities must have promised him protection -- otherwise he'd never agree to it.

"They could've at least called to check and see that he was all right, especially when they knew he was back here," the source said.

Tiffany Roberts, a close friend of Bressette's, also feels the police didn't go far enough to ensure Bressette's safety.

"They didn't protect him, they put him on a bus," Roberts said.

Another acquaintance of Bressette's offered a different opinion, saying that, unfortunately, there was little police could do to protect Bressette other than to urge him to stay away from North Adams.

"They [probably] told him to stay out there," the source said.

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When reached Thursday, a spokesman for the NYPD said there was no progress to report in the investigation. Several Berkshire County law enforcement officials declined to be interviewed about the investigation into Bressette's murder or about the BCDTF's policies regarding the use of confidential informants in general.

Though authorities will not confirm that Bressette was an informant, or about what information Bressette provided and when if he was, the BCDTF has cited the use of multiple confidential informants in a number of drug-related arrests in recent months. In a February arrest of five people, including Bressette, drug task force member Bailey stated in a criminal complaint that he used several confidential informants to investigate a heroin-dealing operation.

At the time, North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio was quoted in The Eagle saying that police were receiving a "fair amount of cooperation" in their investigations.

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Bressette's story and the risks associated with becoming a confidential informant are not uncommon, according to Loyola Law School Professor Alexandra Natapoff, an expert on the use of informants by law enforcement.

"Unfortunately, this is very common," Natapoff said. "It's legal. American law gives police and prosecutors [the ability to persuade] young addicts to become informants in ways that threaten their lives."

Except in few instances where states have regulated the use of confidential informants, Natapoff said, the practice is widely unregulated.

A Berkshire District Attorney spokesman declined to respond to a request for policies of the BCDTF regarding use of confidential informants, citing a policy against commenting on ongoing investigations such as Bressette's.

"Police are well within their discretion to pressure anyone under their arrest to become an informant," Natapoff said. "The law says that informants cooperate at their own risk. If bad things happen to them, the government, for the most part, is not liable."

Courts have repeatedly reinforced the right of law enforcement to use confidential informants, according to Natapoff.

"There is almost no limit to what their government can pressure a person to do in exchange for leniency," Natapoff said.

Few states, under pressure from advocates for deeper regulation of law enforcement's use of confidential informants, have enacted tighter laws on the practice. Florida, for example, passed tighter regulations after college student Rachel Hoffman was killed during a controlled purchase of ecstacy, a handgun and cocaine. She had worked with police in exchange for leniency on marijuana and ecstasy possession charges.

Upon Bressette's death, he was facing open drug charges of heroin possession, being present where heroin is kept, and conspiracy to violate drug law. The charges were dismissed posthumously. Though in and out of court for most of his adult life, Bressette was never convicted of any drug charges.

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Bressette's family and friends remember him as more than a heroin addict, a dealer, or a confidential informant.

"He was one of the best people I know," said one friend. "He was just a beautiful person."

Although he was changed by his addiction, Waterman said she knew Bressette loved her as much as she loved him.

"Josh had a distinct very individual personality from the time he was 2 years old," Waterman said. "He never wanted to be like anyone else and [he] knew exactly who he was."

Jedidiah Bressette remembers growing up riding dirt bikes with his brother and Joshua's knack for drawing. Jedidiah has three tattoos drawn by Joshua as a permanent reminder.

Roberts said he wasn't naturally a drug dealer, but "a lost soul that got lost into a world of drugs."

"Joshua loved everybody in his life unconditionally," Roberts.

Roberts remembers Bressette picking flowers and leaving them in his truck.

"He said they could hold beauty further than the eye could see."

To reach Adam Shanks:
ashanks@berkshireeagle.com,
or 413-663-3741, ext. 225.
On Twitter: @EagleAdamShanks.