The Boston Globe’s Maria Cramer reported today that Massachusetts Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh has denied former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s motion to transfer his case out of Bristol County.
Hernandez has been indicted for murder and gun crimes related to the shooting death of acquaintance Odin Lloyd in June of 2013. Lloyd had been shot seven times and his body was discovered in an industrial park in North Attleboro. Hernandez was allegedly linked to the murder through evidence that included surveillance video and text messages. The police searched his home, seized his cell phone, and arrested him nine days after the murder. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to all charges and his trial is scheduled to begin in January.
Both the federal and the state constitutions guarantee a criminal defendant the right to a fair and impartial trial. Hernandez’s attorneys asked Judge Garsh to transfer his case to another county (known as a “change of venue”) because the intense news coverage has made it impossible to find fair and impartial jurors in Bristol County. Hernandez’s attorneys provided the Court with extensive data regarding the “millions of unfairly prejudicial words and images about Aaron Hernandez,” including 130 stories and video on Fox 25’s website and 482 stories and 190 videos on Channel 5’s website. Hernandez has also been the subject of a lengthy article in Rolling Stone Magazine entitled “The Gangster in the Huddle.” His lawyers claim that a Google search for “Aaron Hernandez Murder” results in approximately 800,000 hits. Hernandez’s defense team hired a polling organization to conduct a poll of Bristol County residents to determine whether it would be possible to find fair and unbiased jurors to hear the case. According to the pollster, two-thirds of Bristol County adults are closely following Hernandez’s case. More than 70% of Bristol County residents believe Hernandez is definitely or probably guilty of murdering Lloyd.
The Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure state that a change of venue is appropriate if, in the county where the case is pending, there is so great a prejudice against the defendant that he cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial. According to the Globe, Judge Garsh concluded that Bristol County, which contains more than 550,000 people including four cities, is large and diverse enough to find 12 jurors and 4 alternate jurors who are unbiased. The jury pool will consist of 1,100 Bristol County residents. Judge Garsh also rejected the conclusions of the pollster, describing the polling questions as flawed and the sampling of the residents as too small and narrow. Finally, because Hernandez had been living in North Attleboro for only a short time and Lloyd lived in Boston, it was less likely that Bristol County residents would feel personally invested in the case.
Motions to change venue are often filed in high profile cases and, as with this case, are almost never successful. A federal judge recently denied the alleged Boston Marathon Bomber’s motion to change venue and move his trial out of Boston. Harvey Silverglate, a prominent Boston attorney, wrote an interesting column for forbes.com in response to the federal judge’s refusal to move the Marathon Bombing trial.