Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez faces a potentially busy day in court Monday in Massachusetts – arraignment on charges he beat up a fellow inmate and threatened a guard and possible rulings on a series of motions that could dramatically shape the way one of the murder cases he’s facing will play out.
Hernandez, the former Pro Bowl player who is facing murder charges in two separate cases, has been held without bail for nearly a year following his arrest days after an associate, Odin Lloyd, was found dead in a secluded field, the victim of multiple gunshot wounds.
Two other men, alleged to have been with Hernandez when Lloyd was killed, have also been charged with murder in that case.
In addition to the charge in Lloyd’s killing, Hernandez was subsequently indicted by a grand jury in Suffolk County on murder, assault and weapons charges in the slayings of two men and wounding of a third at a South Boston intersection in July 2012.
But although Lloyd’s death on June 17, 2013, came 11 months after the Boston killings, that case appears to be much closer to going to trial.
The first order of business on Monday, however, is to arraign Hernandez on two indictments charging him with assault and battery in a Feb. 25 fight with another inmate and with allegedly threatening a jailer in a Nov. 1, 2013, incident.
Once the formal reading of those charges is concluded, Bristol County Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh is expected to take up at least some of the motions pending in the murder case in which Hernandez is accused of killing Lloyd, who was dating the sister of the former football star’s fiancée.
Multiple motions filed by Hernandez’s attorneys are pending and awaiting rulings before the discussion can turn to setting a trial date:
— A motion seeking dismissal of the charges.
— A motion seeking the suppression of evidence gathered in a search of Hernandez’s home.
— A motion giving the defense access to the computer hard drive from the home security system in Hernandez’s home.
— Motions on “discovery” issues.
In their motion seeking the dismissal of the charges, Hernandez’s lawyers asserted that prosecutors had not established sufficient evidence to support the indictments issued by a grand jury.
To date, prosecutors have said in open court that Hernandez “orchestrated” Lloyd’s killing, but they have not said whether they believe he or one of the two men who have also been charged with murder – Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace Jr. – fired the fatal shots. They don’t have to – under a legal doctrine known as “joint venture,” prosecutors merely need to prove that each of the defendants were part of a plot to carry out the murder.
Still, Hernandez’s lawyers asserted in their motion that prosecutors didn’t have a strong enough case to back up the charges.
“Despite the enormous quantity of evidence presented (to the grand jury),” Hernandez’s attorneys wrote in the motion, “the Commonwealth utterly failed to establish probable cause that Hernandez either murdered Odin Lloyd himself or participated in a joint venture with others to do so. Specifically, there was no forensic evidence presented linking Hernandez to the shooting, no eyewitness testimony, no inculpatory statements by Hernandez, and no evidence that Hernandez had motive to kill Lloyd. Basically, all that the Commonwealth showed the grand jury is that Hernandez was in a car with Lloyd and several other individuals shortly before Lloyd was shot to death.”
They also accused prosecutors of inundating the grand jury with “a torrent of irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial and improper evidence designed to inflame the grand jury against Hernandez and procure a murder indictment.”
Prosecutors filed a rebuttal motion under seal, so it is not clear what they argued.
In the motion seeking to suppress evidence taken in a search of Hernandez’s home the day after Lloyd’s death, Hernandez’s lawyers argued that investigators did not establish probable cause to believe the former football star killed Lloyd and that evidence of the crime could be found in his house.
For instance, they asserted that prosecutors went looking for images from Hernandez’s home security system in what amounted to a “fishing expedition.”
That security system yielded images thought to have been taken shortly after Lloyd’s murder that allegedly show Hernandez with a gun. But Hernandez’s lawyers argued in their filings that the warrant issued for the search was based on flimsy evidence and, therefore, the items recovered there should not be allowed to be used as evidence.
Prosecutors, however, argued in their response that the affidavit used to obtain a search warrant issued for Hernandez’s home merely needed to show that a crime has been committed and that there is a “reasonable expectation that evidence of that offense will be found in the place named in the warrant.”
Ultimately, prosecutors wrote in their response, there was an “overwhelming basis” for establishing suspicion to back up the warrant.
In another motion, Hernandez’s attorneys asked for access to the hard drive from that home security system, questioning whether there are unexplained gaps and blank spots in it.
And, finally, his attorneys have filed multiple motions seeking “discovery” – information in the possession of the prosecution that they are asking be turned over.
Discovery fights are typical in serious cases – so, in that regard, the motions are not unusual.
It is not clear whether Judge Garsh will issue any rulings Monday or simply take the various motions under advisement and issue decisions later.
Following Monday’s hearing, Hernandez is scheduled to appear in Boston in charges related to the July 16, 2012, murders of Daniel de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, and the wounding of another man in their car.