Harwich man, 21, is Boston’s first murder victim; suspect claims he acted in self-defense

The Brighton man accused of committing the first murder in Boston this year was defending himself after he was attacked by one of the hosts of a New Year’s party in Allston, the man’s defense attorney said today.

Brian MacDonald, 24, pleaded not guilty to a murder charge today in Brighton Municipal Court. Judge David T. Donnelly set bail at $500,000 cash, a much higher amount than the $10,000 bail requested by MacDonald’s attorney, Thomas Hoopes.

The victim, 21-year-old Anthony “Tony” Spaulding, was rushed to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. Spaulding, a Harwich native, was one of the tenants at 48 Pratt St. in Allston, where he was fatally stabbed, officials said.

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Spaulding’s mother attended the arraignment today. But neither she nor anyone could see MacDonald. He was kept out of public view due to the ongoing investigation into the death.

In court, Hoopes said that MacDonald attended the New Year’s party with his girlfriend, who had been invited by one of the Pratt Street residents. While there, Hoopes said, MacDonald was attacked by Spaulding.

“This is a not a first- or second-degree murder case,’’ said Hoopes who called the incident “at best an altercation.’’ He added that there was “no question, he was assaulted by at least one’’ person inside the Pratt Street building.

Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Holly Broadbent said the fatal fight began around 2:30 a.m. when Spaulding came out of his bedroom in the apartment and ordered MacDonald to lower his voice. She said the two men started verbally arguing, which quickly escalated into a fistfight.

The men fought with each other down a stairwell until they were outside the building, the prosecutor said. At that point, other people intervened and pulled the men apart. Broadbent said witnesses reported that MacDonald’s clothing was blood-stained and that Spaulding was bleeding.

MacDonald ran away, but was captured by a surveillance camera as he ran towards his home on Washington Street in Brighton. In addition to the surveillance video, police followed a blood trial that led them to MacDonald’s home. MacDonald suffered a hand injury that required stitches to close, Broadbent said.

Broadbent said one witness told police they saw MacDonald arm himself with a knife before the fight began. But it was not clear what kind of knife was used during the struggle and whether police have recovered a weapon.

Both Broadbent and Hoopes said MacDonald had no prior criminal history. Court records show that MacDonald works at Sears Auto Center in Burlington.