Now that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has officially pleaded not guilty to six counts related to the death of Odin Lloyd, the case can begin to move toward a trial date.
Per a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the trial most likely will happen during the summer of 2014.
That window can shift, based on a variety of factors. Hernandez could, in theory, change lawyers. Issues could arise regarding the availability of the lawyers who are handling the case for either side. The judge presiding over the case may have a scheduling conflict.
Regardless, that’s the time frame in which the trial currently is expected to unfold. A trial date could be set at the next hearing in the case, which has been set for October 9. Or it could come later.
Before or after the trial date has been set, it won’t be too early for the two sides to posture for the potential jury pool. Charles Rankin, one of the members of Hernandez’s legal team, told reporters after Friday’s hearing that Hernandez eventually will be freed.
“[N]ot one shred of evidence has been presented yet,” Rankin said. “At the end of the day, we’re confident that Aaron is going to be exonerated and we look forward to that process.”
Prosecutor Sam Sutter disagrees. “There’s a tremendous amount of evidence,” Sutter said.
In the end, no one knows what will happen. A jury will have to decide whether the Commonwealth can satisfy the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That very high standard protects innocent persons from being wrongfully imprisoned, even if it raises the chances that a guilty man will go free.
In this case, the circumstances point strongly to a conclusion that Hernandez killed Lloyd. But the absence of the murder weapon and the presence of a star witness (Carlos Ortiz) who may have severe credibility issues could lay the foundation for reasonable doubt.
If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. That mantra sums up in seven words the ease with which a skillful defense lawyer can persuade a jury to force the prosecution to present not just persuasive evidence but overwhelming proof of guilt.
Meanwhile, Hernandez continues to be investigated for a double murder occurring in July 2012. While not connected on the surface, some reports have suggested that Hernandez may have killed Lloyd to keep him quiet about the other murders.
If that’s the case, the feds eventually could get involved — and they have the death penalty in their arsenal.
That creates a wide range of potential outcomes for Hernandez. And no clear answers will be coming for a while.