By Ellen Lahr
Berkshire Eagle Staff
GREAT BARRINGTON The Rev. Esther Dozier, pastor of Clinton AME Zion Church, was found dead of stab wounds in her Railroad Avenue house yesterday, and her husband, Henry E. Dozier Sr., was charged with her murder.
Police said the 65-year-old minister was found in her bed shortly before 6:30 a.m. by her son, Alphonse Dozier of Giddings Street, upon receiving a phone call from his 63-year-old father asking him to come to their house.
Police Chief William R. Walsh Jr. said that when the son arrived, the father was leaving the building.
"He passed his son in the hall," the chief said.
Police responded to Alphonse Dozier's call, and upon on their arrival found no apparent sign of a struggle, Walsh said. However, a closer inspection of the house was being done last night by state police investigators. An autopsy will be performed in Holyoke today or tomorrow.
"It's a very hard situation for the family, but they've been extremely cooperative with us," said Walsh, standing alongside the railroad tracks where the couple's modest red house is situated, not far from the tiny church Dozier has led since 1999.
The murder is the first in the town since 1992, when Wayne Lo, then a student at Simon's Rock College of Bard, killed two people at the campus.
"It's been a difficult day," said the chief, who added that police knew of no history of domestic problems at the Dozier household.
Walsh had nothing to say about a possible motive for the killing. However, he said a neighbor heard a scream between 6 and 6:30 a.m.
Walsh said police have evidence that the stabbing occurred not long after police returned Dozier Sr. to his house following a 4:50 a.m. accident involving his pickup truck. His truck had crashed into the Route 41 railroad underpass, just north of town, and he left the scene, Walsh said.
Officers found him more than a mile away, walking near the Price Chopper plaza on Stockbridge Road, Walsh said. After meeting with police, they returned him to his house.
By 7 a.m. yesterday, area police had received a radio bulletin to be on the lookout for a Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Dozier Sr.
A Lenox Police officer, William Fuore, spotted the car heading north through Lenox.
The car was pulled over at Different Drummer's Kitchen on the Pittsfield-Lenox Road and surrounded by a group of police, their guns drawn, according to a passing motorist. The motorist said Dozier Sr. was sitting passively in the driver's seat, as officers shouted at him to get out, and he did.
According to a statement from Berkshire County District Attorney David F. Capeless, Dozier Sr. was first taken by ambulance to Berkshire Medical Center because he told police he had ingested a poisonous substance.
Following his release from BMC, Dozier Sr., wearing a hospital gown and pants, was brought to Southern Berkshire District Court yesterday afternoon for his arraignment. His left thumb was bandaged, and he wore gray socks.
Judge James B. McElroy accepted a not-guilty plea from Dozier Sr., who had a court-appointed lawyer, Leonard H. Cohen of Pittsfield.
First Assistant District Attorney Joseph Pieropan offered no details of the homicide. He asked McElroy to hold the man without bail.
Cohen agreed, but asked that the bail status be set without prejudice. He said he will meet today with Dozier at the county jail to gather information for a bail argument. McElroy agreed.
Also to be determined, the judge agreed, is whether Dozier Sr. qualifies for a court-appointed lawyer because he and his wife are named as the owners of their home. He also is retired and has a pension income.
McElroy said he would appoint Cohen for the time being, with the financial matter to be determined.
The Doziers' family and friends filled the courtroom seats yesterday with grim expressions of distress and sadness at the shock of a mother dead and a father accused of murder.
The news rippled through the community where Esther Dozier was the first woman pastor of the historic Clinton AME Zion Church, a small congregation that has nevertheless become a focal point of black history in South Berkshire.
She was an outspoken advocate of the area's African-American heritage and has been working to establish a fitting memorial for the homestead of the late W.E.B. Du Bois, the writer, scholar and civil rights leader born here.
Rachel Fletcher of Great Barrington, who worked with Esther Dozier on the Du Bois committee, said she was stunned yesterday.
"I don't know anyone for whom the attribute of unconditional love can better describe," Fletcher said of Esther Dozier.
Fletcher said the pastor's husband appeared loyal and dedicated to his wife.
"I like him a lot, and I have no idea how this could possibly have happened," she said. "This will be a horrible thing for him and for the family to have to cope with."
The Rev. Joseph Forte, pastor of the nearby Macedonia Baptist Church, said yesterday's events are a mystery to him. He admired the Rev. Dozier as a collaborator on matters of mutual interest and as a compassionate pastor, he said.
Henry Dozier is his regular chess opponent, a man of "good spirit," with a ready smile, Forte said.
He said his church is prepared to assist Esther Dozier's congregation in any way possible.
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.