BOSTON (CN) – An attorney for Aaron Hernandez, the former football star serving life in prison for murder, fought Tuesday to keep tattoos and text messages from implicating his client in yet more killings.
Hernandez, whom the New England Patriots dropped in 2013 when he was arrested for the death of Odin Lloyd, entered the courtroom in a gray suit jacket. Seeing his former agent, Brian Murphy, waiting in the witness stand, the former tight end smiled and waved.
Hernandez has been serving a life sentence since 2015 for Lloyd’s death. In the new year, Hernandez is set to go on trial before the Suffolk County Supreme Court on charges that in 2012 he committed a drive-by shooting in Boston's South End neighborhood, causing the deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.
As with Lloyd, prosecutors say the carnage erupted after Hernandez felt disrespected at a nightclub. Here Hernandez is said to have followed de Abreu, Furtado and their three friends out of the club Cure on July 16, 2012, because they did not apologize for spilling Hernandez's drink when one of them bumped into him.
Exactly a year later, in Florida, Hernandez was sued by Alexander Bradley, a friend who claims that Hernandez shot him in the face on Feb. 13, 2013. Bradley also claims to have witnessed the 2012 drive-by and apparently texted and called Hernandez about it repeatedly in the four-month lead-up to filing suit.
Tuesday’s hearing centered largely on whether Murphy had been acting as an attorney when he advised Hernandez to ignore Bradley’s messages. Once with the firm Ropes & Gray, Murphy’s membership with the Massachusetts Bar Association lapsed over nonpayment of dues.
“I advised Mr. Hernandez to not respond to the text messages and let the lawyers handle the messages,” Murphy testified Tuesday.
“I had no idea what they meant, what they are about and where they were coming from,” Murphy added. “I just had these text messages that were atrocious in nature. When I said ‘let the lawyers handle it,’ I didn’t have any specific lawyer in mind.”
Murphy later arranged for Hernandez to have a meeting at Ropes & Gray, his old firm.
Hernandez murdered Lloyd on June 17, 2013, the day after he handed his cellphone over to the lawyers.
Murphy said that if clients are facing trouble with the law, they will meet directly with their agent and the agency’s general counsel before deciding whether to obtain outside counsel.
“If we can handle it ourselves, we will,” he said. “If it’s more serious charges, we’ll bring in a law firm with experts.”
The prosecutor, First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan, argued that Murphy never formally served as Hernandez’s attorney, so the text messages and the cellphone that relayed them are not protected by attorney-client privilege.
“There is no evidence that Brian Murphy was Aaron Hernandez’s lawyer,” Haggan said. “There is no privilege that protects a sports agent’s conversations with a client.”
Hernandez’s attorney, Ronald Sullivan, also made his pitch for a recently filed motion to suppress two of Hernandez’s tattoos as evidence.
Discussing the evidence value of Hernandez’s body ink, Haggan told the court that Hernandez got a tattoo in either late March 2013 or early April of a gun with five rounds in the chamber.
That is the same number of shots fired into the BMW where Abreu and Safiro were killed.
The tattoo also has the words “God forgives,” which the commonwealth claims is essentially an admission of guilt. The words are backward so that they can be read in a mirror.
Sullivan balked at the motion, claiming that there too many possible cultural reasons why someone might get a particular tattoo to make an assumption on their purpose.
“Some people get tattooed with a gun on them,” said Sullivan, who is a professor at Harvard Law. “It does not mean that the commonwealth is allowed to file inference on top of inference that this is an admission of guilt.”
Just in time for the hearing, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office released a Dec. 21 order denying Hernandez’s motion to block the use of firearm forensic analysis.
Hernandez’s attorneys questioned the scientific legitimacy, but Justice Jeffrey Locke denied the motion, citing a 2016 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on how to ensure the scientific validity of firearm analysis.
Hernandez is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 19 for another pretrial hearing.
Bradley, the man who survived getting shot in the face, settled his claims against Hernandez earlier this year. He was also shot in the leg in 2014 and was charged in Connecticut for allegedly returning fire. This shooting also happened at a nightclub.
Last month, Bradley sued CNN for showing footage of him in a documentary about Hernandez.
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