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FALL RIVER, Mass. – Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh banned a Boston television cameraman from the Fall River Justice Center after two jurors in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial complained he was seen driving a company car by a remote parking lot they use.
Garsh previously questioned both jurors about whether the incident compromised their ability to decide the fate of Hernandez, who is charged with murdering Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013, in a field in North Attleboro.
Both jurors said they could continue and were returned to the jury room where deliberation continued through the day before breaking just after 4 p.m. (ET) without a verdict being reached. The jury has now worked nearly 16 hours across three days on the case and will resume Friday at 9 a.m.
The television-news incident caused the often-fiery Garsh, who clashed repeatedly with attorneys during this lengthy trial, to become angry with the media. She said the action threatened the loss of jurors (there are only three alternates remaining) and thus increased the risk of a mistrial in a case that began back in early January for jury selection and is the product of enormous resources on both sides.
"This is a very serious matter," Garsh said, sternly, to a WHDH-TV reporter, who was not in the company car at the time but was present in the fifth-floor courtroom. "It would have left us with one alternate fairly early in the deliberation.
"… You cannot approach, question, harass [or] follow any juror," she said.
Garsh was far more subdued, however, after a hearing Thursday afternoon in which a WHDH-TV attorney and the cameraman, Robert Cusanelli, explained that there was never any intention to contact jurors in any way.
Instead, Cusanelli said his lone goal was to identify the location of the juror parking lot, likely to attempt to interview them after they'd decided Hernandez's fate.
Jurors park at another site away from court and are bussed in so they might avoid any contact or influence from media, the families of the victim or accused, or any member of the public following the case. Cusanelli said he got in the station's silver Ford Explorer and followed the bus from the courthouse to the parking lot after deliberations ended Wednesday.
Hernandez, 25, is a former star for the New England Patriots. As such, this trial has attracted widespread attention in the public and the media.
The media can’t attempt to interview a jury member during a trial, however once a verdict is reached and they leave the courthouse, they are again regular citizens. It is common practice for media outlets to ask them if they are interested in commenting on the case. Many agree to do interviews.
Knowing the location of the juror parking lot is common practice for a television cameraman, who will have to scramble once a verdict arrives.
“I saw the opportunity to follow the bus and see where the location was," Cusanelli said.
It was, an attorney for the NBC affiliate said, just an honest error in judgment going to the parking lot while jurors were present.
Garsh had threatened to ban WHDH from the courthouse during the trial and revoking a parking pass outside that it uses to set up its news truck capable of satellite transmission.
She instead decided to prohibit the cameraman only. She also claimed that Cusanelli could not "[drive] a WHDH vehicle for the purpose of reporting on this case until a verdict has been rendered," although that is almost assuredly beyond her powers. WHDH lawyers didn't challenge that, though.
Garsh's intense reaction to the jurors' initial claim in the morning helped the story spread quickly. A transcript of a sidebar with each juror – one male, one female – acquired later from the Superior Court show the driver never attempted to make any contact with them, just that he looked at them as they walked to their cars and then circled around the block. Neither juror sounded very troubled by the incident; each just wanted the court to know it occurred. The male juror took a photo of the SUV's license plate and shared it with Garsh.
Cusanelli, who has worked at the station for 16 years, said he went all the way around the block because that is the route his GPS instructed him to take.
"An experienced photographer made a snap decision at the time that in hindsight was not a good one," WHDH attorney Michael Gass argued. "He is quite sorry. And most importantly, Your Honor, did not influence the jurors."
On a slow news day as the jury continued to deliberate Hernandez’s fate, that pretty much put the saga to bed.
You can probably tune into WHDH’s 7 News at 6 p.m. for more details.