Potential devastating turn for Aaron Hernandez

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist

FALL RIVER, Mass. – One of the central tenets of the defense of Aaron Hernandez is a lack of motive: Why would an NFL star with so much going for him – money, fame, growing family – be involved in murdering Odin Lloyd, a possible future brother-in-law with whom he regularly partied?

"His friend Odin," is how Hernandez's attorney Michael Fee repeatedly described their relationship during January's opening statements in the trial of whether the former New England Patriot killed Lloyd on June 17, 2013. Fee used the term "friend" over a dozen times that day.

Alexander Bradley was allegedly shot in the face by Aaron Hernandez in Florida. (REUTERS)
Alexander Bradley was allegedly shot in the face by Aaron Hernandez in Florida. (REUTERS)

It's a strong point to which the prosecution has struggled to counter. Not only is there a lack of motive, the defense has argued, but if anything there is motive for Hernandez to not commit the crime. Who just kills his buddy?

Then came Monday when the prosecution went on the attack and tried to ingeniously flip the entire line of defense, and indeed the defense team's hubris, around.

In a filing here at Bristol County Superior Court, the Commonwealth sought to essentially reverse a critical pretrial finding that excluded "prior bad acts." In this case, the prosecution wants jurors to hear about Hernandez allegedly shooting his friend Alexander Bradley after a visit to a South Florida strip club back in February, 2013.

No criminal charges were filed in that incident because Bradley refused to cooperate with authorities. Bradley later sued Hernandez in federal court, reportedly seeking more than $100,000 in damages.

The alleged details carry a number of haunting similarities to the Lloyd case and display Hernandez's almost unfathomable temper.

According to the filing, Bradley was a "friend and confidante" to Hernandez and they often traveled and partied together. On February 13, 2013, the two men, along with two of Hernandez's other friends, went to Tootsie's Cabaret in Miami Gardens, Fla. A dispute arose over how the bar bill would be split – Hernandez wanted he and Bradley to split it, Bradley thought he should pay only a quarter of the bill since there were four people there.

The disagreement continued on the drive home when Bradley realized he left his cell phone at the club and asked Hernandez to turn around and go back. Hernandez refused. Bradley then "made disrespectful remarks about [Hernandez]."

"Shortly thereafter," the filing reads, "the car pulled over in an isolated industrial area, where Bradley was shot between the eyes, the defendant exited the car and quickly dumped Bradley's body on the ground before fleeing the scene."

Bradley was discovered minutes later by some workers at a John Deere Tractor Store (it was 7 a.m.) and taken to the hospital. He survived the shooting but lost vision in his right eye.

Lloyd, the prosecution alleges, was shot after riding in a car driven by Hernandez and containing two of Hernandez's friends. He was then left to die in a field behind a North Attleboro, Mass., industrial park.

To have a second, similar shooting-a-friend-and-dumping-a-body-incident presented to the jury would be powerful and perhaps too much to overcome for Hernandez, who was already facing daunting odds. Exactly how could such a thing happen not once, but twice in a four-month span?

That's why the defense victory last summer to get Judge E. Susan Garsh to keep the incident out of this trial was so critical. The defense successfully argued that one incident doesn't prove another and allowing it would represent "the kind of outlandish, flawed reasoning which our criminal justice system prohibits."

Now, however, it might yet be allowed, and it's the defense's own bold argument being used against them.

You can't continue to claim Hernandez wouldn't shoot a friend, the prosecution is arguing, when it's alleged that he has, indeed, shot a friend. That isn't just some random "prior bad act." It's the rebuttal of a direct argument at the center of the defense. In this case, it's a known "falsehood," the state is claiming.

"The defendant himself has 'opened the door' to this topic," the filing from deputy district attorney William McCauley reads.

Hernandez's defense has yet to respond to the filing and Garsh won't rule on it until the defense responds. But it was by far the most explosive development on a day dominated by mundane, but necessary, testimony by a cell phone provider expert who could track the location of Hernandez and his associates' phones via cell towers on the night of Lloyd's murder.

Aaron Hernandez smiles during a light moment of the murder trial of Odin Lloyd. (AP)
Aaron Hernandez smiles during a light moment of the murder trial of Odin Lloyd. (AP)

The filing shows an emboldened prosecution, using Hernandez's high-powered and highly paid legal team against him. There is overwhelming circumstantial evidence against Hernandez in this case, but the Commonwealth lacks a murder weapon, a eyewitness and a motive.

If they can get the barbaric Bradley shooting in front of the jury, there may not be the need for any motive – Hernandez comes off as crazed, trigger-happy and prone to massive mood swings over the slightest of slights. He is also the kind of jerk who won't drive his friend back to retrieve a lost phone.

Worse, it can make the defense arguments thus far look ridiculous. If Garsh allows the jury to hear about the Bradley incident, it probably would've been better for the defense to lose this point prior to trial then attempt to reverse course on the oft-repeated "friend" line of reasoning.

"[The defense] has repeatedly emphasized to the jury that [Hernandez] could not have been the person who murdered Lloyd because [Hernandez] and Lloyd were 'friends.' …Indeed, [the defense] made this argument one of the cornerstones ... and has cross examined witnesses suggesting that the two were friends."

The prosecution argues that this defense strategy was enacted because they knew the Bradley incident, which would make a mockery of it, was inadmissible.

"The [defense] apparently believed that [it] could purvey what [it] knew to be a falsehood to the jury – i.e. that the defendant would never harm his friends – with complete impunity."

And so, just like that, the trial could swing. The defense victory last summer to keep prior bad acts out would, at least partially, be reversed. There would still be no mention of Hernandez awaiting trial for two murders in a separate 2012 incident in Boston, but the jury would hear about Bradley being shot in the face by his friend.

Judge Garsh will make the determination at some point but not before a spirited counter-argument from the Hernandez team. It better be good because this has the potential to be devastating for Aaron Hernandez.