FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – No ruling was issued on a motion to dismiss the first degree murder charge brought against former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez Monday morning, but a tentative trial date was announced.
Hernandez was back in a Fall River courtroom Monday morning for more pre-trial hearings related to his alleged involvement in the 2013 murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.
Clean-shaven and wearing a black suit with a bright yellow tie, the football star turned alleged killer watched on as his defense team – led by Michael Fee, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP – presented a motion to dismiss the first degree murder charge brought against him.
After nearly three hours of arguments and rebuttals between the case’s opposing legal teams, Judge Susan Garsh decided to table her ruling on the defense’s motion for dismissal. She also declared October 6 as a tentative start date for Hernandez’s trial.
The first two hours of Monday morning’s hearing involved back-and-forth arguments from Fee and Bristol County Assistant District Attorney William McCauley. Fee broke the defense’s motion for dismissal into two key arguments. He said the evidence presented by prosecutors did not amount to probable cause showing Hernandez participated in the crime, and he said the prosecution “deliberately and persistently besmirched Hernandez’s character” in their presentations to the jury.
“They came up with a theory, and they presented evidence they say is consistent with their theory,” Fee said to Judge Susan Garsh. “That is not probable cause that Hernandez murdered Odin Lloyd. You can’t just throw a bunch of stuff against a wall and say that’s good enough.”
Fee continued, “This was a deliberate campaign – not to enlighten the grand jury to help them decide who committed this crime – but to tarnish Mr. Hernandez, his character and his background .”
Fee highlighted several pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution over the last year – evidence such as a photograph taken in 2009 that shows Hernandez holding a firearm, past incidents in Boston, Florida and Providence in which Hernandez has somehow been involves and the reported shooting of Hernandez’s associated Alexander Bradley – and said each piece of evidence was “irrelevant to whether or not Hernandez committed murder” and “unfairly prejudicial.”
“They [prosecution] want the grand jury to think he’s a bad guy,” Fee said. “The kind of guy who would commit a murder.”
Nearly an hour after recapping the prosecution’s case against Hernandez during his first opportunity to respond to Fee’s argument, McCauley focused primarily on the question of Alexander Bradley’s testimony in his rebuttal to Fee’s second point.
Bradley claims in a Florida lawsuit that he lost his right eye when Hernandez shot him in the face last February. He testified that he and Hernandez were close friends and had gone to a Florida club the night he was shot, but he said an argument he had with Hernandez after they left the club prompted Hernandez to shoot him.
In his testimony, Bradley told the grand jury the argument was sparked when he told Hernandez he had left his cell phone at the club. Hernandez refused to turn around to retrieve the phone, and Bradley said he argued with Hernandez and may have “disrespected” Hernandez. Then, Bradley said he fell asleep and woke up with “a gun in his face.”
After he was shot, Bradley said Hernandez dropped him off on the side of the road and drove away.
According to the prosecution, Bradley’s testimony is relevant because it creates what is called a “signature crime.” McCauley argued Bradley’s testimony told a story very similar to that of Odin Lloyd’s execution-style murder in North Attleboro, and showed Hernandez has an alleged history of involvement in incidents involving his friends and firearms.
McCauley said Bradley was an important witness because he testified he had previously seen Aaron Hernandez with a gun and he testified that he saw the gun in a metal box that was later found during a search of Hernandez’s home. McCauley said Bradley’s testimony included information that led to possible motive for Lloyd’s shooting.
Fee, in his closing arguments, said the similarities between Bradley’s allegations and Lloyd’s murder “do not come close” to signature crime status, saying it would be “frivolous” to even make the comparison. Fee went on to say the prosecution’s argument relate the two instances was another attempt to attack Hernandez’s character.
With that, the defense wrapped its motion, and Garsh said she would not immediately issue a ruling.
Hernandez remained in the courtroom for nearly an hour after the motion to dismiss arguments concluded. After brief motions related to the discovery of evidence, he was formally arraigned on separate charges stemming from a jailhouse fight reported back in February.
Hernandez pleaded not guilty to assault and battery and threats to commit a crime related to the scuffle.
Then, nearly three hours after he arrived, he was placed back in handcuffs and led out of the room.
Garsh did not say when she expected to rule on the defense’s motion to dismiss.