Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Excludes Important “Prior Bad Acts” in Upcoming Aaron Hernandez Murder Trial

The superior court judge presiding over the upcoming Aaron Hernandez murder trial issued a series of important pretrial orders today that significantly limit the evidence that may be offered by the Commonwealth.  In a recent post, I outlined the evidence that the prosecution team wanted to admit against Hernandez under an evidentiary rule that sometimes allows for a defendant’s unrelated “prior bad acts” to be used against him in court.

The Boston Globe reported that Bristol Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh has prohibited the Commonwealth from introducing the following evidence at Hernandez’s trial, in which he is accused of shooting and killing former friend Odin Lloyd in a North Attleboro industrial park in June of 2013.

Florida Shooting
Hernandez has been accused of shooting his friend, Alexander Bradley, in the face in Florida in February of 2013.  Bradley claims he was blinded by the shooting, which occurred as he and Hernandez were leaving a Miami strip club.  Bradley has sued Hernandez in federal court seeking damages for his injuries.  The Commonwealth wanted to introduce evidence of Bradley’s shooting to the jury, arguing that the shooting of Bradley and the shooting of Lloyd were “remarkably similar.”  The judge rejected the Commonwealth’s argument, ruling that there was no unique modus operandi between the shootings.  Because the Commonwealth cannot admit evidence against a defendant to prove the defendant has a “propensity” to commit crimes, the evidence of the Bradley shooting is irrelevant.

Boston Double Murder
After being indicted for killing Odin Lloyd, Hernandez was indicted in Suffolk County for murdering two men following a dispute at a Boston nightclub.  The Commonwealth has theorized that Hernandez showed Lloyd the spot where he killed the two men in Boston and later regretted sharing the information with Lloyd.  The Commonwealth has argued that Hernandez had a motive to kill Lloyd to ensure he couldn’t tell anyone about Hernandez’s confession.  However, the judge ruled that there is no evidence that the Hernandez ever made such a confession to Lloyd.  Because the Commonwealth’s theory is speculative and “does not comport with common sense,” the judge ruled inadmissible any evidence related to the Boston murders.

TMZ Gun Photo
In 2009, Hernandez allegedly posed with a handgun in a photo that was published by the website TMZ.  The Commonwealth wanted to show the photograph to the jury.  The judge said because the photo was taken so long ago, was “extremely prejudicial,” and had little probative value, the Commonwealth could not admit the photograph as an exhibit.

Odin Lloyd’s Text Messages
Finally, the Commonwealth wanted to admit text messages Lloyd sent to his sister shortly before his murder, where he told her he was with “NFL,” which is a reference to Hernandez.  The text messages are classic hearsay, which is defined as an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter therein.  However, the prosecutor argued that the messages proved that Lloyd was in fear and knew he was riding to his death.  But the judge ruled that even if Lloyd was fearful, his state of mind would be relevant only if Hernandez knew about it and responded to it.  The judge said that a victim’s feelings of hostility toward a defendant, when the defendant doesn’t know about the victim’s feelings, are irrelevant and inadmissible.  Therefore, the jury will not hear about Lloyd’s text messages to his sister.  This is potentially the most damaging pretrial ruling for the Commonwealth, as the text messages were powerful evidence of the victim going away with the defendant shortly before his death.

All of the judge’s rulings were entirely on point.  In criminal cases, prosecutors always try to introduce completely irrelevant, unrelated evidence of the defendant’s bad character in the hope that the jury will convict based solely on the defendant’s propensity to commit crimes rather than on the evidence in the case.  None of the evidence that the Commonwealth sought to introduce here was relevant – it was intended to sully Hernandez’s character before the jury.  It was properly excluded.  Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him.  His trial is scheduled to begin in Fall River Superior Court on January 5, 2015.