FALL RIVER, Mass. - For the first time since his late June murder arrest, former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez Wednesday took the witness stand at a pretrial hearing during which the judge ruled on several motions but postponed issuing a decision on a request for her own removal.
Hernandez, his legs shackled but his wrists free after Fall River Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh allowed his handcuffs to be removed, raised his right hand and prepared to answer questions about a potential conflict involving his lawyer, Michael Fee, who works at the same law firm as a prosecutor's wife.
"What is your employment?" Garsh asked Hernandez.
"Umm, I play football," the former All-Pro tight end from Bristol responded. "NFL."
Hernandez, dressed in khakis and a suit jacket and tie, answered quietly and told the judge he wished to remain with Fee, who has represented him since the onset of the criminal investigation. Fee said his firm, Ropes and Gray, had taken steps to ensure that Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Bomberg's wife did not have access to case-related information.
Bomberg has been prosecuting the case along with Assistant District Attorney William McCauley, who opened the hearing with an announcement that the prosecution was moving to have the judge recused from the trial.
"In a prior murder case involving the same prosecutor, the judge exhibited antagonism and bias toward the prosecution throughout the case," prosecutors said in a motion filed Wednesday morning. "The lead prosecutor and the trial judge currently assigned to this case have a well-known and publicly documented history of antagonism - a history that has, in the past, generated broad public comment and concern."
McCauley, who has prosecuted the Hernandez case from the beginning, wrote in an affidavit supporting Garsh's removal that the judge had engaged in biased conduct during the murder trial of George Duarte, a New Bedford man who in 2010 was found guilty of murder in the shooting death of a teenager. McCauley wrote that during that trial, "Her words, tone and behavior were unnecessary, discourteous and demeaning. Counsel for the defendant was not subjected to this same hostile treatment."
Defense attorneys said they objected the motion and intended to file a written response. Prosecutors argued in a court memo that Garsh's recusal was necessary in part due to the level of publicity the case inevitably would receive. An appearance of bias, they said, was just as damaging as actual bias. A hearing on the issue was scheduled for late October.
The public attention the Hernandez case has generated also was addressed later in the hearing, when Garsh refused defense attorneys' request to extend a gag order that prevented all parties from discussing evidence in the case. She said that Massachusetts state law renders a court-issued order unnecessary, but warned that if the law was not followed, an order may become necessary. Defense attorneys frequently have criticized the widespread publicity their client has received due to his prior career as a professional football player.
A status hearing for Hernandez, who faces a murder and five illegal weapons charges in the June 17 death of Odin Lloyd, was scheduled for Dec 13. Lloyd, 28, of Dorchester, was dating the sister of Shayanna Jenkins, the former Patriot's fiancée. Jenkins also was charged in the case, accused of lying in her testimony to the grand jury probing Lloyd's death. She is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to be arraigned on a single count of perjury.
The grand jury has also returned indictments for:
- Ernest Wallace, a Bristol drug dealer described as Hernandez's "right hand man." Wallace was indicted for accessory after the fact to murder.
- Carlos Ortiz, the prosecution's key witness who, in a recently-revised account, has told authorities Hernandez was alone with the victim minutes before Lloyd's death. Ortiz was also charged with accessory after the fact.
- Tanya Singleton, Hernandez's cousin, who prosecutors say helped Wallace travel to Florida after Lloyd's death, was charged with conspiracy to commit accessory.