FALL RIVER —
Bristol Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh said she did not believe the Channel 7 cameraman, Robert Cusanelli, meant to interfere with the jury and its deliberations in the murder trial of Hernandez, a former New England Patriots player.
But she said Cusanelli had violated a rule she had issued for media coverage of the high-profile case. The rule bans members of the press from having “contact’’ with jurors, a word that the Supreme Judicial Court has interpreted to include being physically near them.
“There was no intent by WHDH to undermine the court’s order or to undermine the deliberations of the court,’’ Garsh said, adding that she would allow WHDH-TV to still have representation at the trial — but not Cusanelli.
Hernandez, 25, has pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons charges in the June 2013 slaying of Odin L. Lloyd, 27, of Dorchester, whose bullet-riddled body was found in an industrial park near the athlete’s North Attleborough home. Garsh sent jurors home Thursday afternoon after they ended their second full day of deliberations without reaching a verdict.
Garsh said that two jurors reported Thursday morning that a person driving an SUV seemed to be watching them as they got into their vehicles after getting off the court-provided bus Wednesday and tried to follow them. One juror, Garsh said, made a U-turn and took a picture of the SUV’s license plate.
“This is an extraordinarily serious matter,” Garsh said from the bench.
Garsh questioned the jurors separately at sidebar, and both assured the judge that the incident would not affect their deliberations. Garsh allowed both jurors to remain on the panel.
But Garsh said she also wanted to hear from Cusanelli. The 16-year veteran cameraman briefly testified that he knew that the jurors were boarding a bus at the end of each day and were then driven to a parking lot away from the courthouse, where they parked their cars. He said that on Wednesday he spotted the bus leaving the courthouse and concluded it would give his station a potential competitive advantage if its managers knew where to send reporters to speak with jurors after a verdict is reached.
“I knew that they felt that was good information to have,” he said.
A lawyer for Channel 7 asked Cusanelli whether he planned to try to speak with jurors, and Cusanelli answered: “No. I know that’s forbidden.’’
Garsh said the cameraman had “intended to go to a location where the jurors would be,” and as a result the cameraman “cannot come into this building” until after the trial is over.
Garsh previously banned a Boston Globe videographer from covering the trial after the employee tried to take a still photo of the courtroom.
Garsh issued an order Thursday afternoon saying, “No person shall approach, follow, contact, harass, photograph, take down the license plate number of, attempt to influence, interfere with, communicate with, or tamper with a deliberating juror or alternate juror in this case.”
Jurors heard closing arguments in the high-profile case Tuesday and deliberated for a full day Wednesday. They are sifting through nine weeks of testimony from 135 witnesses and 439 exhibits.
In addition to the murder charge, Hernandez faces charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.
If jurors convict the once promising athlete of killing Lloyd, they can opt for first- or second-degree murder. A first-degree murder conviction carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Defendants convicted of second-degree murder become eligible for parole after 15 years.
John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the channel number of WHDH-TV.