CBS Boston

Aaron Hernandez Trial, Part 2: Prosecution Begins Its Case

February 2, 2015

Good afternoon. Once again I’m Boston criminal defense attorney Ben Urbelis. This is my second video update on the Aaron Hernandez first-degree murder trial. The prosecution began putting forth its case after opening statements by calling Lorne Giroux to the stand.

I found myself questioning why the prosecution decided to kick off their case with this particular witness. You see, each side can call its own witnesses in any order it chooses, and there’s always a strategy in determining that order. As I explained before, I found ADA Bomberg’s opening statement to lack a clear narrative, or story, that the prosecution would intend to tell, particularly without putting forth their theory on motive. I’m curious to see if they will have the same lack of structure and clarity in their case-in-chief as in ADA Bomberg’s opening statement. Without a clear roadmap, or outline, in that opening it’s tough to tell exactly what to expect.

So, Lorne Giroux took the stand first, and really just testified that the victim, Odin Lloyd, worked for him, was a reliable worker, and unexpectedly did not show up for work on the morning of Monday, June 18th. Mr. Giroux texted Odin Lloyd, but got no response. After Lloyd did not show up for work that Tuesday morning either, Mr. Giroux again texted Odin Lloyd. After receiving no response, he was later contacted by the authorities and informed that Mr. Lloyd was dead.

It looks like the prosecution perhaps called this witness in order to show that Mr. Lloyd was a reliable worker and probably would not have been looking to find an after party at 2:30 in the morning with Aaron Hernandez if he had to work just a few hours later. Other than that, I didn’t find Mr. Giroux to be a significant witness and apparently neither did defense attorney Charlie Rankin.

In any trial, when the prosecution offers a witness, the defense has an infinite number of tactical decisions to make. Did this witness hurt us – or more specifically did he disturb OUR theory of the case? If so, how do we handle it? How can we pick at what this witness just offered? Is this a witness we should attack fiercely, or should we just show that perhaps he was mistaken, or that his first hand observations could mean something else? What tone should we take with this particular witness in order to best demonstrate to the jury how WE value or feel about him and his testimony?

Hernandez’s attorney Charle Rankin did exactly what I expected him to do on the cross-examination of the prosecution’s first witness … nothing. In certain situations, silence speaks louder and resonates with the jury more than asking meaningless questions would. By not asking a single question, he told the jury that the prosecution just started this trial off with a meaningless witness, who offered nothing, who didn’t hurt the defense’s case, and Mr. Rankin wasn’t going to waste the jury’s time by even bothering with him at all.

The next witness called by the prosecution was high school student Matt Kent, who actually discovered Odin Lloyd’s body in the construction site. Mr. Kent was just a freshman in high school, cutting through the site on his run home from the gym. He went to a nearby business to get help, where he met William Cambio, a computer engineer, the prosecution’s next witness. Mr. Cambio called the local authorities, and among those first responders was North Attleboro firefighter Captain John White, who was responsible for formally pronouncing Odin Lloyd dead at the scene.

Now many of you who watched these three witnesses have commented on how boring and unimportant their testimony seemed to be. I completely understand, and in the grand scheme of the whole case, you’re probably right. But these three witnesses all served a similar purpose, in establishing a timeline for who had possession, or control, of each piece of physical and forensic evidence, at all times – the prosecution cannot allow for any break in this link of control and possession of evidence.

This link is known as the chain of custody. Any missing piece in the chain of custody may actually prevent the evidence from being admitted and considered by the jury. The prosecution needs to establish the condition of the scene when Mr. Kent first discovered the body, and then each witness thereafter is used to show that the body and surrounding evidence was never disturbed, or tampered with, before the crime scene investigators began taking photographs, gathering physical evidence, and preparing much of that evidence for forensic testing.

We can expect many other seemingly “unimportant” witnesses to be called for the sole purpose of confirming this chain of custody before the physical evidence was gathered and tested. Even after testing, the chain of custody must be preserved all the way up to the time the physical evidence is brought into court for trial – over a year and a half after being gathered from the crime scene.

The fourth witness for the prosecution was Charles Sotherland, the director of telecommunications for the Massachusetts State Police. Mr. Sotherland testified as to how calls are routed through cell towers to the 911 dispatch operators, and how tracking technology can determine precisely where the call is coming from. This was mostly to confirm what we already heard from Mr. Kent and Mr. Cambio. Attorney Rankin had no questions for this witness either.

He did have a limited number of questions on his cross of Kemp and Captain White, and his tone lacked much emotion or any sense of hostility. These individuals are not responsible for conducting the criminal investigation. Mr. Kent was an innocent passerby, and Captain White kept referring to Odin Lloyd as the patient. The firefighter was there to offer assistance, and once he pronounced Lloyd dead at the scene, he was for the most part no longer involved- it was now a homicide case in the hands of the police. There was no bias or sloppy police work to attack these witnesses with, so an aggressive cross-examination really would not score Attorney Rankin any points with the jury, in terms of promoting the defense’s theory of the case.

At the end of day 2, the prosecution called Shaneah Jenkins, the girlfriend of Odin Lloyd. We can expect that she will provide much significant testimony, and also be subject to a much more aggressive cross-examination by the defense, so I will leave my commentary on her for my next video blog. Stay tuned.

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