Tensions flared Friday in the double murder trial of Aaron Hernandez, when the defense sought a mistrial over a state witness telling the jury that the shooter or someone in the gunman’s car looked “just like” Hernandez.
The witness, Raychides Gomes-Sanches, made the statement Thursday during testimony in Suffolk Superior Court.
Defense attorney Ronald Sullivan said Friday that Gomes-Sanches followed up his statement with a “knowing look and a head nod” directed at Hernandez, a former New England Patriots star.
Sullivan said that statement, as well as Gomes-Sanches’s testimony that the suspect may have looked Hispanic, violated Judge Jeffrey Locke’s pretrial order limiting his descriptive testimony to what he told police the afternoon following the 2012 drive-by shooting.
Gomes-Sanches told detectives in the interview that the suspect appeared to be a white or light-skinned “American boy” wearing a ball cap with a clean-shaven face.
Sullivan, his voice rising, said prosecutors improperly asked follow-up questions of Gomes-Sanches Thursday that prompted his prohibited remarks.
The defense lawyer said the “just like him” and Hispanic comments were not Gomes-Sanches’s honest recollections but the result of prosecutors’ leading questions. The testimony was also tainted by pretrial publicity, which Locke had sought to avoid with the pretrial order, Sullivan said.
“It wasn’t the truth,” Sullivan said Friday of the testimony, now shouting with his hand raised. “It was a lie!”
Prosecutor Patrick Haggan told Locke the suggestion that he improperly questioned Gomes-Sanches was inaccurate, “disingenuous,” and “offensive.”
He said Gomes-Sanches, a Cape Verdean native, has a thick accent, so prosecutors wanted jurors to read a transcript of his police interview while they listened to the audio tape Thursday. The defense objected, Haggan said.
He said that as a result, he had to ask followup questions of Gomes-Sanches to clarify for the jury what they heard on the audio tape.
Haggan said defense lawyer Jose Baez repeatedly objected to his “direct and specific” followup questions to Gomes-Sanches, forcing him to rephrase the inquiries multiple times.
Finally, Haggan said, Gomes-Sanches made the disputed comments after non-leading questions.
Locke said he would review the videotape of Gomes-Sanches’ testimony but said he initially saw no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
He stressed to jurors when they later entered the room to hear testimony that Gomes-Sanches did not identify Hernandez as the gunman in the double slayings.
Hernandez, 27, has pleaded not guilty to charges of killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a drive-by shooting in Boston’s South End in the early morning hours of July 16, 2012.
He is already serving a life sentence for the June 2013 slaying of Odin Lloyd. An appeal of his first-degree murder conviction in that case will be heard at a later date.
Prosecutors say Hernandez was riding in the front passenger seat of a Toyota 4Runner when he fired into the victims’ BMW at a stop light.
Three occupants of the BMW survived, including Gomes-Sanches.
Hernandez is also charged with shooting Alexander Bradley, the man prosecutors say was driving the 4Runner during the killings, in February 2013 in Florida in an effort to silence him.
Bradley, a convicted felon serving time for shooting up a nightclub in Hartford in 2014, will testify for prosecutors under an immunity agreement.
The defense claims Bradley shot the Boston victims over a drug deal.
Later Friday, sparks flew again when Baez asked Boston police Detective Joshua Cummings about notes he had taken in the early stages of the investigation.
Cummings had written down that he heard a rumor that Furtado, who had recently arrived in the US, may have sold drugs in Cape Verde.
He also noted a rumor that a member of a Cape Verdean gang may have been “after” Gomes-Sanches and Gerson Lopes, another occupant of the BMW.
“You did absolutely no followup” on those tips, Baez said.
“That’s absolutely untrue,” Cummings responded.
He said he spoke to a Boston police officer of Cape Verdean descent, who currently works in the gang unit, who described de Abreu as “a really good kid who wouldn’t be involved in anything like that.”
The officer also said he had not heard anything about de Abreu’s friends.
In addition, Cummings said, none of the BMW occupants showed up in law enforcement databases of gang affiliates or people consorting with gangsters.
Investigators also checked for criminal histories, and only Lopes had an arrest record in Rhode Island.
Haggan began his redirect examination of Cummings with a dramatic gesture.
He noted that Baez asked many questions about other people involved in the investigation, and he grabbed a large poster board exhibit listing investigative steps police had taken to build a case against Hernandez.
“Did [Baez] ask any questions about” that exhibit? Haggan asked.
Cummings said no, and Haggan, rather than placing the exhibit back on its perch, deliberately dropped it to the floor with a loud thud.
“Objection, your honor,” Sullivan said. “That is wholly inappropriate.”
Locke directed Haggan to ask his next question.Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.