As jurors in the double-murder trial of ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez began their second day of deliberations Monday, one of Hernandez's lawyers told the judge that his selection of a white woman as forewoman of the mostly minority jury has "troubling racial overtones."
Attorney Ronald Sullivan Jr., a black Harvard law professor, said the judge's choice of a white woman as forewoman ensured she would remain on the jury instead of being dismissed as an alternate. He said each juror of color should have had the same opportunity to remain on the jury and serve as the foreman or forewoman.
"This court immunizes in effect one white juror and makes the juror the lead of this group," Sullivan argued. "We find that offensive, Your Honor."
Judge Jeffrey Locke, referring to an objection the defense first made last week, said he found it "astounding" that Sullivan would make that claim.
"Accusing any court of being racist is not only offensive to the individual judge, but to the tribunal and the integrity of the tribunal," Locke said after the jury was sent out of the room to deliberate.
Locke, who's white, said the woman he chose was attentive during the trial. The judge also said it is his practice to select a foreman or forewoman before alternate jurors are eliminated by lottery. Twelve jurors will deliberate in the case.
Prior to the disagreement, the defense had also renewed their push for a mistrial based on the prosecution’s reference to Hernandez’s tattoos as an admission of guilt. The statements were made during closing arguments last week. Locke quickly dismissed the motion, countering that he instructed jurors to not take the arguments as evidence.
Hernandez, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, is charged with killing Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu in a 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston. Prosecutors say Hernandez felt disrespected after one of the men accidentally spilled his drunk at a nightclub. Hernandez's lawyers say Hernandez's former friend, Alexander Bradley, shot the men over a drug deal.
Before the jury went home for the day, they submitted a question to the court that focused on the Bradley shooting. Hernandez is charged with witness intimidation in connection with the incident, and today jurors stated they were uncertain Hernandez “can be found guilty if we find he indirectly willfully threatened Bradley.”
Judge Locke asked both the defense and prosecution to consider the question overnight. In the morning, an answer will be provided to jurors.