FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — The judge overseeing the murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez closed the courtroom to the public and the media Tuesday to deal with a juror issue.
Bristol County Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh said Tuesday that the closure had to do with the qualifications of a juror, but she didn’t elaborate on the issue. Prosecutors requested the closure, and the defense did not object.
The judge spent about 20 minutes earlier Tuesday questioning a juror in open court but outside the hearing of the public. It was not clear why she was questioning the woman or what she was being asked. Prosecutors, the defense team and Hernandez huddled around her as the judge murmured questions.
As Garsh closed the court, she said questioning in that manner was difficult and this was the only reasonable alternative.
“The closure is no broader than necessary to protect the interest of the state,” she said.
Tuesday was the first day back at the trial since the Patriots won the Super Bowl. The judge told jurors they were allowed to watch the game but had to leave the room or distance themselves if Hernandez’s name came up.
Proceedings began last week but were suspended Monday when a snowstorm hit. Tuesday was the first day back at the trial since the Patriots won the Super Bowl on Sunday. The judge told jurors they were allowed to watch the game but had to leave the room or distance themselves if Hernandez’s name came up.
There are 18 jurors. Six of those will be randomly chosen as alternates 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.
The Tuesday morning session began with a lengthy private sidebar conversation among the judge, prosecutors and the defense. After about 20 minutes, the juror was called in.
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.
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