Man found guilty in 2017 hit-and-run accident that killed a cyclist in Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — A man was found guilty Wednesday of leaving the scene of an accident on Linden Street that left a bicyclist dead and burning the vehicle involved in the wreck.

A Berkshire Superior Court jury returned guilty verdicts on all charges against Robert Smith, 41, who struck and killed Gerald P. Scott Jr., 53, on Jan. 19, 2017. He did not stop to render aid, nor contact police himself, and attempted to destroy evidence by burning the involved vehicle and enlisted his girlfriend to create a false alibi.

Jurors began their deliberations Wednesday afternoon and delivered their verdicts within two hours. Smith's sentencing is scheduled for Friday. He is being held without the right to bail in the meantime.

His trial was beset by logistical issues from its beginning.

Smith failed to appear May 28 for the trial's original start date, prompting the issuance of a warrant. He walked in on that warrant the following day and was ordered held on $2,500 bail. Jury selection began Thursday and concluded Monday, at which point testimony began.

The state's key witness, Donna Gerwitz, however, refused to answer even basic questions posed by Assistant Berkshire District Kyle Christensen, who prosecuted the case, including where she lived at the time of the incident.

She eventually invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege against incriminating herself when it came to whether she lied to police when she first told them Smith was with her on a trip to Albany and back at the time of the collision. She later admitted she made that trip alone.

Prosecutors attempted to grant Gerwitz immunity to elicit her testimony on that issue Tuesday, but clerical matters involved in the petition for that immunity agreement prevented it from being acted upon until Wednesday morning.

With that agreement in place, Gerwitz's original Fifth Amendment privilege was moot and she was permitted to answer questions free from concern about being charged with a crime.

During her testimony, Gerwitz often said she couldn't remember particular statements she gave to police, blaming her lack of recall on the length of time that had passed and her multiple sclerosis.

At several points during the trial, she was played portions of those recorded statements in order to confirm what she had said.

Gerwitz made her third appearance on the witness stand Wednesday and confirmed for the court that Smith had directed her to give false information to police regarding his whereabouts.

In a Jan. 23, 2017, police interview, Gerwitz told police Smith was with her on the trip, but later, after being told she could be charged with conspiracy or obstruction for giving false statements, she changed her account and said Smith was not with her.

On the stand Wednesday, she confirmed the latter statement and said Smith had directed her to give investigators the false information.

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Despite the immunity agreement, Gerwitz appeared to still give answers reluctantly, even sarcastically at times.

In one instance, under cross-examination Wednesday, Smith's attorney, Edmund St John IV noted Gerwitz's police interview took place on her birthday.

"What a lovely way to spend it, right?" she responded.

Later Wednesday, jurors were shown a surveillance video which showed the collision between Smith's vehicle and Scott's bicycle.

The video was entered into evidence over the objection of St. John, who argued there was no way to authenticate who it came from, adding that he wouldn't be able to cross-examine the person who provided it to police.

Christensen noted the video shows the intersection where Scott and his bicycle were found, at the time when police were notified of a collision involving a car and a cyclist, and it was the only such collision in Pittsfield on that date.

Mason acknowledged much of the evidence regarding the video was circumstantial. He found that there was enough of that evidence to find that the video was what the state purports it to be and allowed it in.

The day after the collision, police found the 1995 Camry involved in the collision, apparently abandoned on Mill Street, with a makeshift fuse in the gas intake, made from paper and a cigarette, in an apparent attempt to burn the vehicle and potentially destroy evidence.

The car had damage to its front end and windshield. DNA testing of blood found on the car was a match to Scott. Further DNA testing from the steering wheel and the cigarette was a match to Smith.

In his closing argument, St. John noted a witness saw someone else with Smith and the car earlier in the day on Jan. 19, and while Smith had limited permission from the car's owner to drive the car to and from work, nothing points to Smith having been the driver of the vehicle.

St. John said it's easy to have sympathy in this case, but urged jurors to set it aside and decide the case based solely on the evidence, which he said was lacking, and suggested not giving Gerwitz's testimony any weight.

In his closing, Christensen reminded jurors that Gerwitz testified that about 5 a.m. Jan. 20, she gave Smith a ride around Pittsfield and dropped him off near the West Street Big Y, about 300 yards from where the abandoned car was found later that morning.

Christensen compared the evidence in the case to puzzle pieces that might not provide a 100 percent complete image: "But, you can still see the picture."

Smith was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury or death, misleading a police officer, attempting to burn a motor vehicle and evidence tampering.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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