Jury selection for Aaron Hernandez heads into next phase

The Aaron Hernandez case heads into a second phase.

Ted Fitzgerald/AP

FALL RIVER, Mass. –€“ The process of selecting a jury to consider the murder case against former football star Aaron Hernandez moved to the next phase Friday with the judge questioning 60 potential jurors, one at a time, out of earshot of the public.

The process –€“ known as voir dire –€“ began at 8:30 a.m. (ET) and played out slowly, with potential jurors being summoned into the courtroom one-at-a-time for the discussion with Judge E. Susan Garsh at "sidebar" –€“ the area next to her normal perch usually reserved for private conversations with attorneys.

By the time the day ended, she had excused 35 prospective jurors and ruled that another 20 were "indifferent" – meaning they were still in the running.

From the 1,055 potential jurors who originally reported and completed extensive questionnaires about the case, the judge had already agreed to eliminate 325 based on their answers to the questions. Friday morning, she reinstated one possible juror who had been eliminated the day before –€“ a person who has a pending criminal case –€“ after consulting the statute her earlier decision had been based on.

Hernandez, the former star tight end of the New England Patriots, faces one count of first-degree murder and two weapons charges in the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd. A 27-year-old semi-professional football player, Lloyd was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins.

Prosecutors have alleged that Hernandez summoned two associates from his hometown of Bristol, Conn., to his Massachusetts home late the night of June 16, 2013, and simultaneously made plans to meet with Lloyd. Hernandez then allegedly drove the other two men, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace Jr., to the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, picked up Lloyd, and returned to North Attleboro.

According to court documents, Hernandez allegedly drove into a secluded area in an industrial park that is surrounded by woods and mounds of asphalt, gravel and dirt. There, Lloyd was shot multiple times.

Although prosecutors have not said who they believe fired the fatal shots, they have asserted that Hernandez "orchestrated" the killing. Ortiz and Wallace have also been indicted on murder charges but will be tried separately. The prosecution does not plan to call either as a witness in the trial.

Since the process Friday was carried out at "sidebar" –€“ and because white noise was pumped into the courtroom, it was difficult to hear much of the conversations with prospective jurors.

However, a few spoke loudly.

"I don’t think this case has anything to do with the Patriots," one woman could be heard saying. She was ruled "indifferent" –€“ meaning that the judge determined she could be a fair and impartial juror.

Since the process Friday was carried out at ‘sidebar’ — and because white noise was pumped into the courtroom, it was difficult to hear much of the conversations with prospective jurors.

"I’m a big Patriots fan," one man could be heard saying. "So I kind of know a lot of Hernandez’s story."

He was excused.

In many cases, it was impossible to know why a prospective juror was excused –€“ although prior discussions in open court made it clear that one woman had previous contact with both Hernandez and his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins.

The judge also reversed course on part of the process. After ruling the previous day that she would require prosecutors and defense attorneys to decide on the spot whether to dismiss an otherwise qualified juror –€“ a process known as a "peremptory" challenge –€“ she changed her mind overnight. As a result, roughly 40 qualified jurors will be identified before she considers peremptory challenges.

The process of seating 18 jurors is expected to last well into next week.

Most first-degree murder trials in Massachusetts see 16 jurors seated. In this case — where the trial is expected to last six to 10 weeks –€“ both sides asked the judge that two extra jurors be seated because they feared that over that long a period several could experience circumstances that require them to ask to be excused.

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The case will ultimately be decided by 12 of the jurors. Once testimony ends, the judge will randomly select the alternates, and they will be dismissed before the dozen panel members who remain begin their deliberations.

Hernandez has separately been indicted on multiple murder and assault charges in a July 16, 2012, shooting in South Boston that left two men dead and another wounded.

In the Boston killings, prosecutors have alleged that Hernandez became enraged after a man bumped him on a nightclub dance floor, spilling his drink, and failed to apologize. Later, they alleged that Hernandez followed the man and his friends as they drove away from the club, then pulled up next to their car at a stoplight and opened fire with a .38-caliber revolver, killing Daniel De Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, and wounding another man.

That trial was originally scheduled to begin May 28, but the judge there indicated recently he would push it back given the anticipated length of the current trial. However, no new date has been set.