FALL RIVER — The judge overseeing the murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez removed a juror Tuesday, saying there was evidence she had previously discussed evidence in the case and had an early interest in being seated on the panel.
Later, the girlfriend of the man Hernandez is accused of killing testified that the day after he was found dead, the former NFL star tried to reassure her that the pain of losing a loved one would get better with time.
Most of Tuesday's court session was spent on the problem with the juror, who has not been identified except by her jury number, 96. Bristol County Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh dismissed her after questioning her individually and closing the courtroom to hear evidence on the matter.
After a closed-door hearing that lasted more than 90 minutes, Garsh said there was credible evidence the juror specifically discussed an opinion about the case, including that it would be hard to convict Hernandez without the murder weapon, which has never been found. She said the juror also discussed several items of evidence that the court has ruled are inadmissible in this case.
“Over the last few years, the juror has expressed an interest in serving on this particular jury,” Garsh said. “There is credible evidence that the juror has attended more Patriots games than were disclosed on the questionnaire.”
Hernandez listened as Garsh spoke and tapped his thigh with the palm of his hand.
“Discharge of the juror is indeed in the best interest of justice,” Garsh said.
It wasn't immediately clear how the juror issue came to light. When the 17 remaining members of the jury came back, Garsh told them that one juror had been dismissed for “purely personal reasons” unrelated to the case.
Twelve jurors will ultimately decide Hernandez's fate. The alternates will be randomly selected from the pool of 17 immediately before deliberations begin.
The former Patriots standout is accused of the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player who was dating his fiancée's sister. Hernandez, 25, had a $40 million contract with the Patriots when he was arrested.
Also charged with murder are Hernandez's friends Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace. Prosecutors haven't said who pulled the trigger but say Hernandez orchestrated the killing. They have both pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.
Lloyd's girlfriend, Shaneah Jenkins, took the stand for a second day Tuesday. She is the sister of Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. Shayanna Jenkins and Hernandez have a 2-year-old daughter together. She is charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury, including when she said she could not remember what she did with a box prosecutors believe she disposed of after getting what they called a coded message from Hernandez. She has pleaded not guilty.
Shaneah Jenkins testified Tuesday that she went to the home her sister and Hernandez shared hours after being told by police that her boyfriend had been found dead. She began to cry on the witness stand and wiped away tears as she recounted that moment. She said she then saw Hernandez.
“(He) asked me if I was OK, put his hand on my shoulder, told me he'd been through this death thing before,” she said, adding that he told her it would get better with time.
Then, he left.
She said after that, her sister kept getting text messages and phone calls and was acting secretive. She then went in the basement with a folded up trash bag, came back upstairs and asked her sister to let her borrow her car, Shaneah Jenkins said.
Shaneah Jenkins also testified about coming back to the home later to find police searching it, and said she stayed at Hernandez's home for a few more days. She said Hernandez seemed “a little stressed but normal” during that time.
Shayanna Jenkins has been seen frequently in court sitting behind Hernandez, but she was not there Tuesday. Shaneah Jenkins, who sits with Lloyd's family, is expected to be back on the stand Wednesday.
In a separate murder case that has yet to go to trial, Hernandez was charged last year in Boston with killing two men in 2012 after someone spilled a drink on him at a nightclub. The judge has ruled that prosecutors in the Lloyd case cannot tell the jury about those slayings.
Hernandez faces life imprisonment if convicted of killing Lloyd.