Hernandez’s lawyer may have opened the door for evidence of another shooting

AP

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.

26 responses to “Hernandez’s lawyer may have opened the door for evidence of another shooting

  1. He’s killed so many people it’s hard to keep track. Ray Lewis was so much easier with only one murder on his conscience.

  2. Nothing new about gangsta’s shooting their own kind. They are not ‘friends’ in the traditional or mainstream sense of the word.

  3. “Keep smiling. Keep shinning. Knowing you can always count on me. For sure. That’s what friends are for……”

  4. I would think a pattern of shooting friends would be relevant but that doesn’t specifically mean he shot Lloyd. I think he’s toast whether this gets in or not.

  5. Had Hernandez been just another punk killer in our society he would already have been sentenced to life in prison without any fanfare but because he is rich and can afford a good lawyer he can drag the trial out trying to convince the jury he did nothing wrong but that wont work this time.

  6. He wasn’t his friend…he was his “friendo”. He’s just a big “No Country For Old Men” fan…that’s why he killed all those people. Case closed.

  7. A couple of points:

    1. This other shooting does nothing to prove a motive for the Lloyd shooting. Rather, it shows only that Hernandez is such a bad guy that he will shoot a friend for a trivial reason. That is precisely the kind of evidence that Rule 404(b) is designed to bar (i.e., evidence showing a propensity to commit bad acts). The defense hasn’t opened the door. That door is not even ajar at this point.

    2. If this evidence is admitted and a reviewing court finds it to be error, any conviction is likely to be reversed. The erroneous admission of other-crimes evidence is rarely harmless error.

    3. The game within the game may be this: the prosecutors may be advancing this opening-the-
    door theory as a shot across the defense’s bow to discourage it from aggressively pursuing this lack-of-motive argument.

    4. Don’t forget that motive is not an element of the offense. The prosecutor does not need to
    prove motive to gain a conviction. Conversely, a lack of motive does not require the jury to acquit.

  8. I’d be surprised if the judge admits evidence from the Bradley incident. It seems more prejudicial than probative since Hernandez presumably has lots of friends he hasn’t shot. Unless the state wants to claim that Hernandez has shot every friend he’s ever had, the cases are separate.

  9. it would seem detrimental to the state to allow the defense to push a narrative the defense knows to be untrue.

    i also know both the words probative and prejudicial but don’t think it would take a perfect record of shooting friends to rise to the level of relevant and admissible in that it refutes a major contention of the defense.

    but i know laws are words on paper and most times folks operate according to their world view.

  10. The prosecution might not think highly of Alexander Bradley, but did they have to imply he was a woman?

    Just another language usage thing that drives me nuts: most French loanwords are gendered and change depending on who they’re applied to. A man can be a fiancé, a confidant, or even né with a different name. But only a woman can be a fiancée, or a confidante, or née something else.

    If anyone has any questions, I’m the guy in the tattered clothing outside the 7-Eleven asking for spare change and rambling about pronouns.

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