Aaron Hernandez trial set to begin next to Lizzie Borden's house, and the similarities are eerie

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·Columnist
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Aaron Hernandez faces life in prison for the murder of Odin Lloyd. (AP)
Aaron Hernandez faces life in prison for the murder of Odin Lloyd. (AP)

FALL RIVER, Mass. – The home of Lizzie Borden sits a touchdown throw across 2nd Street from Bristol County Superior Court here in this snow-packed old mill town.

This is where Lizzie was alleged to have killed her mother and father courtesy of 40 and 41 whacks, with an axe, respectively. (It was actually her stepmother and it was maybe 19 and 11 whacks, but that didn't make the famous rhyme work.)

This was 1892. The ensuing trial was moved to nearby New Bedford and attracted global media attention, which helped turn it into one of the most well known who-done-its in history.

To this day, Lee-ann Wilber, proprietor of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum, which the allegedly haunted house has been turned into, welcomes guests and gives daily tours to people around the world.

[Slideshow: Who's who in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial]

The Bristol County Superior Court (top) sits across the street from Lizzie Borden's house (bottom). (Google)
The Bristol County Superior Court (top) sits across the street from Lizzie Borden's house (bottom). (Google)

Borden, of course, was acquitted. A lack of a murder weapon, no eyewitness testimony, an absence of what would qualify as "forensic evidence" of the day and potentially damning clues that were excluded by the judge are cited for her beating the rap. Public sentiment wasn't kind, but officially she walked.

"I always take the middle ground when asked," Wilber told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. "I don't know if she did it, but I think she was involved. I think she knew who did it."

Fall River is a city of history, from the indigenous Pokanoket Wampanoags, through a Revolutionary War battle, to the textile boom, to Borden, to 20th century battleship yards and onward.

History is known to repeat itself and starting Thursday morning, the Borden home has a front-row view of the latest celebrity trial.

Across the street at that modern courthouse former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, gets his chance to defend himself.

Based on pretrial court documents, his defense team, led by Charles Rankin and James Sultan, may employ many Lizzie-like arguments.

Prosecutors have yet to produce the .45 caliber Glock pistol that they allege was used to murder Lloyd behind an industrial park in North Attleboro near Hernandez's McMansion in June of 2013.

There are not expected to be any firsthand accounts of Hernandez pulling the trigger. The third man said to be there at that moment, Ernest Wallace Jr., is also charged with the murder yet has apparently not flipped on Hernandez. Forensic evidence is light and the defense was successful in winning numerous pretrial arguments to restrict evidence.

If the commonwealth is to get a conviction, it will have to do so on mostly circumstantial evidence, albeit what appears to be overwhelming circumstantial evidence.

"It's interesting," Wilber said of the similarities. She makes no predictions, having witnessed cheers for Hernandez as he left court for various hearings but also heard folks sure of his guilt. "They say: 'Fry him,' " she said.

The only opinions that matter will come from 12 of 18 jurors seated Monday before the area was blasted by a blizzard that delayed opening statements a couple days. The jury of 13 women and five men, pulled from an initial pool of 1,000, were asked about everything from their NFL rooting interests to their views on tattoos. All 18 will hear testimony, with 12 eventually cited to make the decision.

Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh said the case is expected to run between six and 10 weeks. Hernandez is also facing weapons charges.

____________________

That this trial opens just days before a number of Hernandez's old Patriots teammates play Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona adds to the drama. Hernandez, 25, was under a $40 million contract with the team when Lloyd was murdered. The team immediately cut Hernandez upon his arrest that came days later.

The greatest problem for Hernandez may be "joint venture," a Massachusetts law that says someone can be convicted of murder even if they are just involved in the act and didn't actually do the killing.

The prosecution, based on pretrial documents and arguments, feel confident they can place Hernandez, Wallace and Lloyd behind that industrial park in the early hours of June 14, 2013. A fourth man, Carlos Ortiz, allegedly sat in a rented car while the three walked into a field behind the building. Only Hernandez and Wallace returned. A jogger discovered Lloyd's body, shot five times, later that day.

Odin Lloyd
Odin Lloyd

So prosecutors don't necessarily have to prove who actually did the shooting, Hernandez or Wallace, something they don't appear capable of doing anyway. Still, would a jury put Hernandez away for life if it doesn't know if he actually did the killing?

The defense team won numerous pretrial arguments, maybe none bigger than being able to keep previous "bad acts" away from the jury.

Hernandez has also been charged with a double murder that occurred during a drive-by-shooting in Boston in 2012. (That case is pending.) There is a settled civil suit for shooting a friend in the face, plus possible involvement in a gun-trafficking case that sent weapons from Florida, where the Connecticut native attended college, to Massachusetts.

The defense can conceivably argue that the prosecution's theory that Hernandez threw away a dream life as a rich and famous NFL star to kill his friend, Lloyd, to settle what prosecutors allege is a dispute stemming from an incident at a Boston nightclub is so implausible that it actually points to Hernandez's innocence.

In pretrial documents last year, the defense team argued that, "… all the Commonwealth showed the grand jury is that Hernandez was in a car with Lloyd and several other individuals shortly before Lloyd was shot to death.”

____________________

Prosecutor William McCauley will use surveillance video, including from Hernandez's own home system, and text messages, sometimes potentially cryptic, to make his case.

Maybe the most significant question pending is whether Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez's fiancée and mother of his two-year-old child, will testify against him. Prosecutors have suggested she may have disposed of the murder weapon under order of Hernandez. Jenkins has been charged with perjury stemming from her testimony to the grand jury in this case.

Also on the lengthy prosecutorial witness list are Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick. Neither, obviously, will be called to testify before the Super Bowl and it's not certain they will ever make an appearance as the benefit they pose to the commonwealth is uncertain – they obviously held a positive opinion of Hernandez due to the fact they gave him a huge contract before being charged in this case.

Either one sitting on the witness stand would dramatically increase the spectacle of this trial.

Not that this case needs much extra attention.

Fall River is ready for its latest turn in the legal spotlight. The Borden case went "all over the world due to that newfangled invention, the telegraph," Wilber noted.

Thursday it will be satellite trucks posting up in snow banks and Internet connections whipping testimony out instantaneously.

Here on 2nd Street, it's 1892 all over again.