Capeless defends handling of homicide suspect's prior cases
PITTSFIELD -- In the face of public criticism, Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless maintains his office was diligent in the handling of prior cases against accused killer Adam Lee Hall.
"We prosecuted cases we could prosecute. ... We did the best we could," Capeless said recently in a heated meeting with The Eagle's editorial board.
The meeting marked the first time that Capeless had spoken with The Eagle about the cases since the newspaper reported last month that his office had dismissed or otherwise hadn't pursued 10 violent charges against Hall before he allegedly beat Pittsfield resident David Glasser with a baseball bat in 2009.
Glasser's remains were found buried in a ditch in Becket in September, along with the remains of two of his friends -- Edward Frampton and Robert Chadwell.
Hall and two accomplices each have been charged with murder, which police say they committed to prevent Glasser from testifying against Hall on assault, drug and gun charges. At the time of his death, Glasser was set to testify regarding 19 felony charges against Hall.
News of Hall's prior record has left friends and family members of the three victims asking whether the killings might have been prevented had the District Attorney's Office more vigorously pursued the 10 violent charges, which spanned six cases from 1997 to 2006.
Only two of the counts against Hall ever stuck, netting him one year in the county jail in 1997 for assault and battery.
During the interview with The Eagle, Capeless alternately expressed remorse that a witness and two other men had been killed and anger that the media was questioning his record. He attempted to explain the circumstances leading up to Glasser's death and criticized the newspaper for its "math" in reporting the 10 charges.
"[That number] varies depending on how you look at it," Capeless said, declining to clarify the number of charges but confirming Hall's involvement in six cases.
Capeless also took issue with previous Eagle articles that quoted Glasser's friends as saying the District Attorney's Office hadn't done enough to ensure Glasser's safety before he was to testify. Capeless reiterated that his office twice relocated Glasser, but that each time he opted to return home.
Capeless declined to say how much the relocations cost his office and where they took place, but he maintained the DA's office did "everything that we thought was necessary" to keep Glasser safe.
"In retrospect, could there have been more done? Of course," Capeless said. "Everyone connected with the case regrets horribly what happened. But we cannot force people to take protection."
A Berkshire County attorney who has former ties to a district attorney's office in the state said it was difficult to believe that, given Hall's history, authorities weren't more proactive in their efforts to protect Glasser.
"These murders didn't happen in isolation. They knew about Hall for a while, but still they didn't take steps," said the lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid souring future dealings with the DA's office.
Capeless defended his office's efforts by saying three cases against Hall went through the court system and were prosecuted "fully to conclusion," and three cases were dismissed because witnesses wouldn't cooperate. In one instance, Capeless said, an initially cooperative witness arrived at the courthouse on the day of the trial, but disappeared before the proceedings began.
Hall, a former member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, has a long history of intimidating witnesses, according to police sources and records.
'We went forward'
During the interview, Capeless criticized The Eagle for what he called "misinformation and lies to the public" in its reporting, emphasizing that one violent charge -- unarmed robbery in 2000 -- wasn't dismissed but instead was amended to larceny from the person. (That charge subsequently was dismissed by prosecutors.)
"We went forward on the charge," Capeless said. "That's part of the record. There's a motion to amend it. It's incorrect to state it was dismissed."
In the three cases the District Attorney's Office ultimately prosecuted, Capeless didn't deny his office had dismissed the violent charges, but said prosecutors sought jail time on lesser charges, such as destruction of property in a 2003 case. A judge continued that charge without a finding, meaning no official determination of guilt was ever made in the case.
Capeless has been in the District Attorney's Office for all six previous cases involving Hall, initially as first assistant district attorney under Gerard Downing and then as DA starting in 2004.
In the triple homicide case, Hall is being held without bail in the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow. All three suspects have pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not been set, but a status hearing to determine where the case stands is scheduled for March 7.
Capeless was incredulous when asked by The Eagle if his office is "equipped to deal with" the case.
"Absolutely," he said. "Why would you even ask that question? Why would you even think, why would anybody not think that?"
The Eagle has received dozens of comments questioning Capeless' record of prosecuting cases against Hall. The comments have come through phone calls, emails, discussion boards, social media and face-to-face conversations.
One Pittsfield resident who agreed to be quoted in the newspaper called the whole situation unsettling.
"The fact that someone was allowed to stay on the street, someone who had obviously been on the wrong side of the law for so long and was quite dangerous, is upsetting," said the resident, who asked not to be identified because he fears retaliation from Hall or his supporters. "Why would this be the case? It appears the system is failing."
Before Hall's violent encounter with Glasser in 2009, police had brought charges against Hall for alleged stabbings, beatings and kidnappings.
In one case, Capeless -- referring to files The Eagle requested under the state's public-records law but which Capeless has refused to provide -- said a man who told police he was brutally beaten outside a bar by Hall was initially cooperative. Capeless said the witness appeared in court for trial, "but before the case was called, [he] left the courthouse without telling anyone and could not be found."
In two other cases, Capeless said prosecutors were either unable to contact the victims, or the victims were unwilling to cooperate. He said that in one instance, a man who told police that Hall had stabbed him indicated he had no intention of testifying against Hall or otherwise aiding police.
Capeless said he didn't know why the witnesses ultimately didn't come forward, and he declined to speculate. He said most witnesses don't fear for their lives, but those who do typically don't want to move and lose contact with friends and family, or otherwise disrupt their lives.
"One of the biggest challenges we face is that practically every witness involved in our cases does not want to be in that situation -- they didn't ask to be a witness, they didn't want to be," Capeless said. " We try to make it the best possible situation for them as well. But we need their help. We can't do it otherwise."
A willing witness
Glasser was one witness willing to testify.
Court records show he told police that Hall had threatened to kill him for going to authorities. From the time that Hall allegedly beat Glasser with a baseball bat until about five months before the slaying, Hall was released on bail twice after charges and arrests in two separate cases connected to Glasser.
The first time was after Glasser identified Hall for beatings and other drug and weapons charges; the second time came after police arrested Hall and charged him with trying to frame Glasser in an attempt to discredit him as a witness in the initial case.
Before Glasser, Frampton and Chadwell were killed, Hall was facing 22 felony charges in Berkshire Superior Court, including the 19 connected to Glasser, according to court records.
The District Attorney's Office has said it still intends to prosecute all of the outstanding charges against Hall, plus the nine connected to the slaying -- three counts each of murder, kidnapping and witness intimidation.
But Glasser's friends say that, no matter what happens in court, three people are dead.
When asked if he thought the system had failed, Capeless declined to comment.
Those close to the victims, however, feel that something went horribly wrong.
"A lot more should have been done," said Donna Randolph, a friend that Glasser -- estranged from his family -- considered his mother. "Everyone's just trying to cover their [expletive]. That's what this is about."
To reach Ned Oliver:
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @BE_NedOliver
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.