How Strong is the Evidence in the Aaron Hernandez Trial as the Commonwealth has rested its Case

The prosecution rested its case against Aaron Hernandez today after 39 days of trial.

Friday, the parties will address legal issues relating to a motion for required finding of not guilty by the defense, where the defense attorneys will argue to the judge that the Commonwealth has not presented enough evidence to allow the case to reach a jury. This motion will likely be denied by the judge, but is commonly filed in every criminal trial. The parties will also discuss jury instructions, with the defense presenting its case on Monday. The defense is expected to rest on Monday and the Court would likely have Closing Arguments on Tuesday.

Summary of the Highlights of the Commonwealth’s Case

The prosecution established through video and cell phone evidence that Hernandez was with Lloyd at the time of the murder and was present at the scene. Hernandez’s DNA was found on a marijuana blunt found near the body of Lloyd. Further connecting Hernandez to the scene were tire tracks of the rented Nissan matched those found at the murder scene.

Hernandez returned the car the next day and the manager found a shell casing and gum inside the car. She threw this evidence into the dumpster and it was retrieved by State and North Attleboro police. Hernandez’s DNA was found on the shell casing found in the rental car. The defense argued that the DNA could have been transferred onto the casing from the gum. The defense will likely stress that the lack of proper DNA testing on the gum and from the co-defendant was based on their desire to pin the murder on Hernandez and deprived the jury of crucial evidence that it should have had to evaluate in the case.

The Six shell casing founds were from a Glock 45 indicating it was fired six times according to the testimony. Additionally, the Commonwealth showed that following the murder Hernandez had frequent cell contact with Wallace.

Where are the gaps in Evidence in the Commonwealth’s Case

The defense will argue that the DNA testing was not complete that the casing at the scene could not be adequately tested; moreover, the defense will point to the lack of control over the crime scene as allowing evidence to be lost as well as the failure to test the DNA of co-defendant Wallace. Finally, the defense will point to the lack of DNA testing of the gum as a failure of the Commonwealth to properly investigate the case.

What Circumstantial Evidence links Hernandez to the murder

The surveillance video from Hernandez’s home shows him with what looks like a gun shortly after the murder and with Ortiz and Wallace.

The testimony of Shayanna Jenkins establishes that the three were also together after the murder and that she made them a smoothie and they were hanging out by the pool. Further, Wallace is shown holding Hernandez’s daughter the day after the murder.

In terms of the Government’s theory of joint venture, the fact that the three are seen after the murder supports the Commonwealth’s claim of a joint venture.

After the murder Hernandez is still controlling the actions of the alleged co-conspirators. This is one of the stronger parts of the Commonwealth’s case is that even after the murder they can argue Hernandez is in control.

While Jenkins did not give the prosecution much evidence, the little is gave was extremely valuable, that he instructed her to drive to East Greenwich, Rhode Island late at night while he was at the police station to give Wallace money. The amount was intended to be greater than 500.

Additionally, Jenkins testified that Hernandez asked her to get rid of a black box in the house that the Commonwealth contends contained the murder weapon. Bradley testified that he saw a gun in the house in the basement around that same spot.

Jenkins clearly did not want to testify against Hernandez, claimed not to have remember many points where it would be nature for her to speak to him, so the fact that she claims she did not look into the box or that it smelled like marijuana was likely not accepted by the jury and the jury may have concluded she got rid of the murder weapon. Jenkins acknowledged using baby clothes to conceal the content of the box from the surveillance footage.

The testimony of Robert Kraft was also critical to the Commonwealth as it is inconsistent with the other evidence in the case. Hernandez had to speak to Kraft and the jury could infer that he lied to Kraft and knew he had to say something so claimed to not have been with Lloyd at the time of the murder.

The prosecution case rests entirely on circumstantial evidence, but they established an abundance of evidence, but still it is unclear who shot Lloyd, what was the motive. The men all smoked pot so the defense may claim that given the drug involvement of everyone involved it creates a reasonable doubt. The defense will point out to the inadequate investigation of Ortiz and Wallace to rule out, them having a motive to kill Lloyd, that from the start the investigation focused on Hernandez and there investigation was geared toward making the evidence fit there theory.

Where the jury may find Reasonable Doubt

A strong part for the defense was in the questioning of the footprint expert; he testified that he did not think one of the shoe prints was sufficient for analysis but was asked to reexamine the print after being directed by Trooper Benson. Further, the defense point out that the investigators did not use the recommended and best practices in securing the crime scene. The defense will point to the lack of accurate and reliable photographs of the crime scene and other precautions to preserve the crime scene. As a result of the lack of preservation of the crime scene, key evidence was lost and the jury cannot know what other evidence is missing, which the defense will argue raises a reasonable doubt.

The testimony of Bradley revealed that he saw a gun in the basement but did not believe that it was a Glock and also claims that the box in the basement had marijuana and money in it. Jenkins testified the box smelled like marijuana confirming the defense theory that Hernandez was getting rid of marijuana. In his article on SI.com, Michael McCann believes that Bradley’s testimony may have helped Hernandez.

Bradley also indicated that Hernandez smoked a large amount of marijuana and was a chain smoker. Bradley’s testimony was undermined by the fact that he had a criminal record, pending charges and may believe that testifying against Hernandez will assist him with his pending cases.

Bradley did testify that he held a Glock in a hotel in Florida in 2011 that resembles what prosecutors believe was the murder weapon. This testimony was impeached as Bradley did not reveal this before the grand jury previously. Though the description of the gun in the box did not match the murder weapon, Bradley confirmed that there was a box that contained a gun, strengthening the Commonwealth’s proof that the murder weapon was not found because disposed of by Jenkins.

How will Reasonable Doubt be explained to the jury?

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently clarified the jury instruction on reasonable doubt requiring judges to instruct a jury that reasonable doubt means the highest degree of certainty in the matter of human affairs; further, the jury will be instructed it must have an abiding conviction to a near moral certitude that the charge is proven to meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Friday the parties will have a charge conference where the judge will review and listen to requests for specific jury instructions. Under the joint venture theory, Hernandez does not have to fire the shot that caused the death to be guilty of murder but is guilty under a joint venture theory.

Jury will be instructed that a joint venture is proven if the following is proven:

The test [for joint venture] is whether each defendant was (1) present at the scene of the crime, (2) with knowledge that another intends to commit the crime or with intent to commit a crime, and (3) by agreement is willing and available to help the other if necessary.”

When you look at the circumstantial evidence in the case, it is compelling, but given the fact that the Commonwealth targeted Hernandez, he has no motive to kill Lloyd and the crime scene was not preserved, DNA testing was inadequate and crime scene investigations like the foot print expert were not qualfiied, those factors could lead the jury to find a reasonable doubt and find Hernandez not guilty.

For further coverage of the Trial, MyFoxBoston, has a complete timely of the trial on its website.

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