Aaron Hernandez lawyer spars with judge over an allegation of racial prejudice

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As jurors entered their second day of deliberations in the double-murder trial of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, a defense attorney objected to the judge’s choice of a white woman as the forewoman.

The selection raised “deeply troubling” racial concerns, attorney Ronald Sullivan Jr. said of the choice for the majority minority jury of 12 people. He objected in part because he said the woman’s presence ensured that she would remain on the jury instead of being dismissed as an alternate.

Suffolk (Mass.) Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Locke told the defense team that he found the claim “astounding.”

“Accusing any court of being racist is not only offensive to the individual judge, but to the tribunal and the integrity of the tribunal,” Locke said (via the Boston Herald) after the jury was sent out to begin its seventh hour of deliberations. “Frankly, I find it astounding that you would make that claim.”

Hernandez, who is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, is charged in the 2012 drive-by shooting of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado as they sat in a car at a stoplight after an incident at a nightclub. Hernandez has entered a not-guilty plea and his lawyers say Alexander Bradley, a former friend and marijuana supplier to Hernandez, did the shooting. Bradley testified that his former friend was the shooter.

Locke, who usually selects a foreperson before alternate jurors are set aside, said he could not see why he should overlook a qualified juror just because she was white and female. Sullivan, a criminal law professor at Harvard, said that ensured that a white woman was in charge and could not be removed.

“We find it offensive that with the jury predominantly filled with people of color, they cannot self-govern. We think it violates Mr. Hernandez’s due process rights,” Sullivan said. “Your honor’s choice of the foreperson is deeply troubling because of the racial composition of the jury. Each and every one of the minority jurors deserved the same chance as the foreperson got.”

Locke also dismissed a defense request for a mistrial – or new instructions to the jury – after Sullivan argued that Suffolk First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan went too far last week when he told jurors in his closing argument that a tattoo of a revolver and the phrase “God forgives” should be considered a confession. The statement was, Sullivan said (via the Boston Globe), “the single most powerful of Mr. Haggan’s closing . . . and it was improper.”

Locke rejected the request, saying he had instructed jurors that closing arguments are advocacy, not evidence.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post ยท Cindy Boren

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