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Aaron Hernandez jury can be fair, judge says

Former Patriot star Aaron Hernandez attended a hearing in Bristol County Superior Court in October.CJ GUNTHER/Pool

The media coverage of the murder charges against former NFL star Aaron Hernandez has been massive but not so inflammatory that potential jurors in Bristol County will not be able to decide the case fairly, a Superior Court judge wrote this week.

In a ruling released Wednesday, Judge E. Susan Garsh detailed her reasoning for rejecting Hernandez’s motion to move his upcoming trial out of Bristol, where his defense lawyers contended finding 16 impartial jurors would be impossible.

Garsh said the county, which has more than 550,000 people and includes four cities, is diverse and large enough to find an impartial jury. The court will pick 12 jurors and four alternates from a pool of more than 1,100 county residents.


“Pervasive, adverse pretrial publicity does not inevitably require a change of venue,” Garsh wrote in her 14-page order. “Hernandez has not demonstrated by a solid foundation of fact that there exists in Bristol County so great a prejudice against him that he cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial there.”

Garsh had already told the defense she was denying their motion to move the trial during an Oct. 30 hearing in Fall River, but the order released Wednesday laid out in detail the thinking behind her decision.

Hernandez’s lawyers hired a Cambridge polling company to conduct surveys of county residents in August and October. About 400 people took part in each poll. Sixty-one percent of the respondents said they had been following the case closely and two out of three respondents said they believed Hernandez was guilty of murdering Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old Boston man, in June 2013.

Those results, defense lawyers said, were proof that the jury pool in Bristol County was tainted.

But Garsh picked apart the survey in her ruling, which described the questions as flawed and the sampling of respondents too small and narrow to provide a broad view of the public’s opinion of Hernandez.


“The polls fall far short of being a ‘solid foundation of fact’ to support a change of venue,” Garsh wrote.

The polling company’s founder and chief executive, John Della Volpe, declined to comment on the judge’s ruling. Della Volpe recently conducted political polls for the Globe.

Garsh noted that in prior cases where change of venue motions were granted, the facts of the crime directly affected the community.

Hernandez, along with two friends, is accused of shooting Lloyd, whose body was found in an industrial park not far from Hernandez’s home.

Garsh said that Hernandez had only been living in North Attleborough a short time, and noted that Lloyd and his family are from Boston. Those tenuous connections to Bristol County make it less likely that residents will feel personally invested in the verdict.

“There was nothing unusually shocking or repellant about the facts of this particular crime that would set community opinion in Bristol County against Hernandez,” Garsh wrote.

She pointed to the 2012 murder case against Dwayne Moore, who was eventually convicted of killing four people, including a toddler, on a Boston street in a crime that was dubbed the “Mattapan Massacre.”

In that case, the defense was able to argue that in the minds of many Bostonians, justice would not be served “until the defendant was held accountable.” So jurors were chosen from Worcester County and bused to Boston for the trial.


John Amabile, Moore’s lawyer in that murder case, said that Hernandez’s lawyers can appeal Garsh’s decision to a single justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. But a ruling in their favor is unlikely, Amabile said.

“You have to show that you’re being irreparably injured and there is no alternative remedy available to you,” Amabile said. “That is a very difficult standard to meet.”

In her ruling, Garsh said that the best way to find out how publicity has affected potential jurors would be through a questionnaire and an interview with the judge, a process known as voir dire.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMCramer.