Aaron Hernandez: Still Legally Innocent, But Outlook Isn’t Good

When I last posted about New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, I emphasized that amid the media reports that had been swirling around, it needed to be remembered that Hernandez should nonetheless was entitled to a legal presumption of innocence. That principle is embodied in the U.S. Constitution, and for a very good reason.

That post was written about three days ago, on June 26 2013. Today, critical legal developments arose, which substantially alter both the present and future for Hernandez. Earlier tonight, I appeared as legal analyst on WBZ-AM 1030’s flagship show, Nightside with Dan Rea, to discuss these developments.

Hernandez was arraigned earlier today in Attleboro District Court on a charge of Murder in the First Degree. An arraignment is (usually) a brief appearance before a court, where the Commonwealth formally presents the charges and the initial evidence against the defendant, and the defendant (almost always) enters a plea of Not Guilty. As I said, it’s typically a very brief, routine proceeding. In almost all cases, an Assistant District Attorney, usually a newly-minted attorney who has been out of law school less than five years, presents the charges on behalf of the District Attorney’s office that is involved. (That’s not to say that these younger Assistant DA’s aren’t talented – they are – but the Number One prosecutor in that DA’s office – the elected District Attorney – does not normally appear.)

The elected Bristol County District Attorney, Samuel Sutter, and his First Assistant District Attorney, appeared to present the initial evidence at today’s arraignment. Actually, today’s court appearance was dual in purpose: 1) To formally arraign Hernandez on the charge of Murder in the First Degree (“Murder One,” for you legal TV show fans,) and equally important, 2) To argue the issue of (pre-trial) bail. As to the presentation of initial evidence against Hernandez, I can say this: As an Attleboro Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, who has practiced in that court many times, things do not look good for Hernandez. The initial evidence I heard presented today is extremely negative and powerful. It’s so voluminous that to list it all here would require quite a lengthy post, but to summarize it, police investigators and the Bristol County District Attorney’s office have amassed what they say is incontrovertible evidence that Hernandez, along with two accomplices, murdered 27 year-old Odin Lloyd, allegedly because Lloyd had been talking to some people at a Boston Nightclub, whom Hernandez didn’t like for some reason.

Reportedly, prosecutors have assembled evidence that tracks Hernandez’ cell phone calls, text messages and geographic movements from late in the day on June 16, through to Lloyd’s murder the next day on June 17. Prosecutors say that through cell tower pings and surveillance video, they can prove the following:

* That Hernandez allegedly summoned two out of state accomplices on the day of the murder, who arrived at his North Attleboro home that day for something ‘important’ that Hernandez wanted their help with;

* That Hernandez later left his home in a rented car, along with those two accomplices, to pick up Lloyd at his Dorchester home
* That Hernandez then drove all four men through the city of Boston and then south on Routes 128 and 95 back to the Attleboro area
* That Hernandez drove the car to an Industrial Park two minutes from Hernandez’ house, where Hernandez shot Lloyd five times, killing him. Five .45 caliber shell casings were recovered at the murder scene.

* That Hernandez then drove back to his house with the two accomplices, where he was seen holding a .45 caliber handgun.

* That Hernandez deactivated his house video surveillance cameras upon returning home, and ordered his girlfriend to say nothing to police.

A .45 caliber shell casing was later found by a cleanup crew at the car rental agency after Hernandez returned the rental car. The cleanup crew reportedly discarded the shell casing in car rental agency’s dumpster, but police allegedly recovered the shell casing and it matched the shell casings recovered at the murder scene. One other piece of evidence found with that shell casing: A wad of used chewing gum – brand “Bubbleicious” – which Hernandez was allegedly seen on video tape purchasing on the night of the murder, on his way to the victim’s home in Dorchester.

What I said in my June 23 post on this subject still stands: Hernandez has the legal right to be presumed innocent until such time as eh is either found guilty by a jury or if he were to enter into some sort of plea deal.

But right now, things legally do not look good for Aaron Hernandez. But despite the reportedly massive evidence that the Commonwealth has amassed against Hernandez, one huge element is missing here for prosecutors: The murder weapon. While a high-capacity rifle was found in Hernandez’ home – which he reportedly does not possess a license for – the gun that fired the bullets that killed Lloyd has not been found. If the murder weapon remains undiscovered, that may leave an opening for Hernandez’ defense team to argue to a jury that reasonable doubt exists as to which of the two other men at the murder scene (the two out-of-state accomplices that Hernandez summoned to his house via text earlier on the day of the murder) actually shot and killed Lloyd.

But that kind of a defense would have to presume that neither of those two men is willing to testify against Hernandez. And if it all happened the way that prosecutors allege that it did, I wouldn’t bet that those two men will remain silent. Thus, from my professional perspective as of right now, this is going to be one tough case to get an acquittal on.

Worse, Hernandez will wait out the probably lengthy road to trial in jail: Prosecutors argued that he be held without bail, and while Hernandez’ defense lawyers argued that the Commonwealth’s case was “largely circumstantial,” the judge wasn’t buying it. He denied bail, as he has the statutory discretion to do, and ordered Hernandez held in custody until trial – something that probably won’t happen for perhaps six to 12 months from now, at best.

Hernandez’ living quarters just went from a palatial, 10,000+ s.f. home in a desirable community, to an 8 x 10 jail cell, with a roommate.