Jury seated, opening statements set for Thursday in Hernandez trial
A jury was seated Monday to hear the murder case against former football star Aaron Hernandez just hours before a crippling blizzard is expected to bury parts of New England in as much as 3 feet of snow.
With the expectation travel is going to be impossible the next two days, Judge E. Susan Garsh scheduled opening statements for Thursday morning.
The jury of 18 includes 13 women and five men, and nearly everyone on it is white.
“We have a jury,” Garsh declared shortly after 11 a.m. following a process that saw defense attorneys dismiss 17 prospective members of the panel and prosecutors dismiss 13. Those dismissals came during a process known as “peremptory” challenges, and neither side was required to give any reason for requesting that a juror be excused.
“Ladies and gentlemen in the jury box, you are the jurors who will be hearing this case,” Garsh said before admonishing them not to discuss the case, Hernandez, the lawyers or anything else about their service with anyone until the trial is over.
Hernandez, 25, faces one count of murder and two firearms charges in the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd, who was gunned down in a secluded field less than a mile from the player’s home.
Lloyd, a 27-year-old semi-professional football player, was dating Shaneah Jenkins, the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée, 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 two other men, Carlos Ortiz and Ernes 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.
Hernandez came to investigators’ attention almost immediately after they discovered keys to a vehicle he had rented in Lloyd’s pocket.
Monday was the 12th day of jury selection, and until the group is sworn in on Thursday it’s possible there could still be changes. For example, Garsh will ask the jurors Thursday morning whether any of them talked about the case with anyone or read about it – and if any have, she could still make dismissals. So as a precaution she continued to work with prosecutors and defense attorneys Monday afternoon to identify backup jurors who could be called upon if that happens.
But once she swears in the jury, the trial will officially begin. It is expected to last six to 10 weeks.
The length of the trial led Garsh to approve a request from attorneys on both sides to seat 18 jurors – giving her some extra leeway if a few need to drop out at some point during testimony.
Following closing statements, the judge will randomly select 12 of the remaining jurors, who will conduct deliberations. Any alternates remaining will be dismissed.
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. They alleged that Hernandez later 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 trial in the Lloyd case. No new trial date has been set.