Aaron Hernandez's legal defense scores pretrial wins
Willie Grace | 12/12/2014, 7:50 p.m. | Updated on 12/12/2014, 7:50 p.m.
(CNN) -- A judge in the murder trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez handed his defense pretrial legal victories Friday, throwing out as evidence text messages sent by the homicide victim the night he died and ruling that prosecutors may not tell jurors about two other slayings allegedly committed by the former New England Patriot.
Hernandez, wearing a dark suit, sat with his lawyers during the Massachusetts hearing, at times smiling and scribbling notes to his defense team. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.
Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh ruled that prosecutors may not introduce the texts that murder victim Odin Lloyd sent his sister shortly before his death.
In the texts, Lloyd said that he was with Hernandez, whose trial is scheduled to start next month. Lloyd was dating a sister of Hernandez's fiancee.
"U see who I'm with?" Lloyd, who was shot and killed on June 17, 2013, wrote in a text.
"NFL," he wrote, referring to Hernandez, "just so you know."
Prosecutor William McCauley said the messages demonstrated Lloyd feared for his life.
But defense attorney James Sultan said the texts "do not suggest fear. They do not suggest knowledge of impending death. They are totally innocuous on their face."
Garsh said the victim's "state of mind is relevant to motive only if there is reason to believe the defendant knew of it."
Lloyd's texts were not a "dying declaration," the judge said, adding that prosecutors "do not provide a basis to infer that he was under the belief of imminent death."
Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward, left court in tears after the ruling. She later returned.
The decision could hurt the case, said Michael McCann, a legal analyst and Sports Illustrated writer.
"The prosecution now has a more difficult case in convincing a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Aaron Hernandez murdered Odin Lloyd," he said. "While there remains incriminating evidence, such as video of Hernandez the night of the murder and an inexplicable use of a cleaning service at Hernandez's home, the loss of Odin Lloyd's text messages is a significant blow to the prosecution."
Authorities have said that Hernandez and two other men picked Lloyd up from his Boston apartment in a rental car shortly before he was found shot to death in a North Attleborough, Massachusetts, industrial park.
Surveillance cameras at the time captured the rental car leaving the crime scene and Hernandez carrying a gun as he returned to his home minutes later. He was with two other people at the time. Lloyd, a 27-year-old semi-pro football player himself, was not among them.
In another defense victory, Garsh ruled that prosecutors may not tell jurors about a separate homicide case involving Hernandez: the July 2012 killings of two men in Boston.
In May, Hernandez was charged in the shooting deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, who prosecutors say were ambushed and executed as they drove home in Boston's South End on July 16, 2012.
In addition to the two counts of first-degree murder, Hernandez also has been charged with three counts of armed assault with intent to murder and one count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, prosecutors said.
The latter four counts reflect shots fired at three people, one of whom was wounded, inside the car that de Abreu and Furtado were in, according to prosecutors.
The prosecution has said that Hernandez may have showed Lloyd the place where the double homicide allegedly took place, giving the former player a possible motive for killing Lloyd. The defense called the theory "incredible."
Garsh ruled there was no link between the two crimes. She dismissed the theory as "clearly in the realm of speculation" and said it "does not comport with common sense."
The judge also ruled out testimony about Hernandez's February 2013 shooting of Alexander Bradley, a former friend who was allegedly with Hernandez on the night de Abreu and Furtado were killed. Bradley, who was shot in the face, is suing Hernandez in federal court.
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