Experts say Aaron Hernandez defense has tough task

Whether evidence from the Suffolk County case against Aaron Hernandez (shown in October) will be a factor in the Bristol County trial is a key question.
Associated Press/file 2013
Whether evidence from the Suffolk County case against Aaron Hernandez (shown in October) will be a factor in the Bristol County trial is a key question.

Defense attorneys for Aaron Hernandez will have to confront a number of difficult issues as they now have to fight murder indictments out of Suffolk and Bristol counties, legal analysts said Thursday.

“It’s uphill at every point for the defense here,” said Alan M. Dershowitz, a longtime Harvard Law professor and a member of the defense team that won an acquittal in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. “He needs a really, really good defense lawyer, and a really good jury, and a very good judge.”

Hernandez’s defense became more complicated on Thursday when Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that the former New England Patriot had been indicted on murder charges for allegedly pulling the trigger in a drive-by shooting that killed two men as they sat in a vehicle in the South End in July 2012.


The new indictments come after Hernandez, 24, had previously pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons charges in a June 2013 murder. In that case, he is charged in the slaying of Odin L. Lloyd, 27, of Dorchester, whose bullet-riddled body was found in an industrial yard near the athlete’s North Attleborough home.

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Soon after Hernandez’s arrest in that killing, the Globe and other news media outlets reported that he was being investigated in the earlier South End killings of Daniel Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28.

Both cases have generated negative publicity for Hernandez, which defense lawyers can overcome in part with strong opening and closing statements at trial, said Barry Slotnick, a defense attorney with experience in high-profile cases.

“Good speeches by defense lawyers win more cases than anything else,” said Slotnick, whose former clients include Bernard Goetz, the so-called “Subway Vigilante” who shot four people on a New York City subway in 1984 but was cleared of attempted murder at his trial, claiming self-defense.

The Globe has reported, citing law enforcement sources and court records, that investigators were looking into whether Hernandez had allegedly become concerned that Lloyd had information about Hernandez’s role in the slayings of Abreu and Furtado.


On Thursday, Conley declined to comment on whether there was any connection between the double slaying in Boston and the North Attleborough killing.

Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for the Bristol district attorney’s office, declined to say whether prosecutors will try to introduce evidence in the Suffolk case in an effort to establish a motive for Lloyd’s slaying.

“It’s too early to comment on that,” Miliote said.

Whether evidence from the Suffolk case will be a factor in the Lloyd trial is a key question, said Gerard T. Leone Jr., a former Middlesex district attorney and federal prosecutor.

“My sense would be if the Bristol County prosecutors can establish motive through the Boston case, that would be an outstanding development for them,” said Leone, who is now a partner at Nixon Peabody.


And Bristol prosecutors could have grounds to use evidence from the Boston shootings in the Lloyd case, said Rosanna Cavallaro, a former state assistant attorney general who teaches courses on evidence at Suffolk University Law School.

‘He needs a really, really good defense lawyer, and a very good jury, and a very good judge.’

Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor 

“It’s very strong evidence of motive,” said Cavallaro, who also worked in Dershowitz’s office. She said the evidentiary value could be enough to clear the threshhold for admissibility in the Lloyd case.

But J.W. Carney Jr., a Boston defense lawyer whose prior clients include organized crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, questioned whether any Boston evidence would be admissible in Bristol County.

“The Bristol prosecutors have never advanced a connection between the two incidents, which tells me that there is no evidence that they are related in any way,” Carney said.

Leone said Hernandez’s defense team will ultimately have to take an incremental approach to fighting both cases.

“I think if you take each case separately, and you break them down component by component, witness by witness, there may be a path for him,” he said, adding that Hernandez’s team appears intent on challenging the credibility of witnesses in the Bristol County case. “But when you look at . . . the confluence of allegations in their entirety, it looks overwhelming.”

Hernandez does have the benefit of a fine legal team in attorneys Michael Fee, Charles Rankin, and James Sultan, said John Cunha, a former president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“He’s got extremely capable and appropriately aggressive lawyers,” Cunha said. “So he’s in good hands.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@
. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.