When fashioning arguments, tactics, and strategies for trial, it’s critical that a lawyer carefully consider the ramifications of every word that may come out of his or her mouth.
In the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, the former Patriots tight end’s lawyers may have failed to be as careful as they should have been.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports explains the latest fascinating turn in the case arising from the death of Odin Lloyd. By consistently referring to Lloyd as Hernandez’s friend, Hernandez’s high-priced lawyer may have inadvertently allowed evidence of another time Hernandez shot a supposed friend to be introduced.
The prosecution, per Wetzel, has filed paperwork asking Judge E. Susan Garsh to reconsider the question of whether evidence of the alleged February 13, 2013 shooting of Alexander Bradley will be utilized in the Lloyd case. The prosecution contends that Bradley was Hernandez’s “friend and confidante” but that Hernandez allegedly shot Bradley in the face “in an isolated industrial area,” dumped Bradley’s body on the ground, and fled the scene.
Bradley survived, suing Hernandez in civil court for the shooting not long before Odin Lloyd’s murder.
Despite Judge Garsh’s prior decision to prevent such evidence, the prosecution contends that Hernandez’s lawyers have “opened the door” by consistently referring to Lloyd as Hernandez’s friend, with the clear message being that Hernadnez wouldn’t shoot a friend.
Ordinarily, evidence of other conduct by a criminal defendant can’t be used to make the defendant look generally like a bad guy. Rule 404(b) of the Massachusetts Rules of Evidence (like the Rules of Evidence in most if not all states) provides that evidence may be admissible to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. In Hernandez’s case, the goal would be to show motive — specifically, that Hernandez would shoot a friend over the flimsiest of actual or perceived indignities. Bradley claims he was shot after a dispute over a bar bill that led to Hernandez refusing to take Bradley back to the bar to get the phone he’d left there that led to Bradley making “disrespectful remarks” about Hernandez.
The problem with Rule 404(b) evidence is that it can create a trial within a trial, with the trial of the main case being placed on hold while a mini-trial emerges on the question of whether the defendant did the other thing he’s accused of doing. The bigger challenge comes from the requirement that the relevance of the evidence to the current case must substantially outweigh any unfair prejudice arising from it.
There will be plenty of prejudice to Hernandez flowing from proof that he shot another “friend” under circumstances similar to the shooting of Odin Lloyd. The question becomes whether the prejudice is unfair to Hernandez — and whether the notion of Hernandez having a hair trigger with so-called friends supplies sufficient proof that Hernandez had a similar overreaction to something Lloyd said or did.Judge Garsh will be tempted to reiterate her prior exclusion of the evidence because it’s the kind of ruling that could result in a conviction of Hernandez being overturned by a higher court. The judges on the higher court, however, would have to be able to set aside the overall evidence suggesting that Hernandez truly is a bad guy, and that society may be much better off with him permanently kept out of it.