January 23, 2015

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) The judge overseeing the murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez on Friday settled on a pool of 53 prospective jurors from which the court will try to seat 18 jurors.

Opening statements in the case are expected Tuesday, though that could change.

''It depends on whether we lose some of those cleared jurors on Monday,'' said Mark Ferriera, an assistant clerk at the Bristol County Superior Court.

He said Judge Susan Garsh was expected to ask the pool of jurors on Monday if they would have trouble being fair and impartial, then allow prosecutors and the defense to exercise what's called peremptory challenges, which allow them to excuse a juror for any reason. Each side gets 18 peremptories.

If both sides use all their challenges, or if jurors are excused by the court for another reason, the court might not have the 18 jurors it needs and would return to the slow process of questioning individual jurors.

Hernandez, 25, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of Odin Lloyd, 27, who was found shot to death in June 2013 at an industrial park near Hernandez's home in North Attleborough. At the time of Lloyd's killing, Hernandez had a $40 million contract with the Patriots. The sister of Hernandez's fiancee was dating Lloyd.

Jury selection has lasted two weeks so far and started with a pool of more than 1,000 prospective jurors. During the first phase, prospective jurors filled out a 51-question survey that asked, for example, whether they were fans of the Patriots. After excusing many jurors who expressed biases or said they had hardships or other valid reasons not to serve on the jury, Garsh has worked since last week to question jurors individually to whittle the pool down further.

The process has played out in open court but outside the hearing of onlookers. As white noise played over the courtroom speakers, Garsh has murmured questions to prospective jurors while Hernandez, his lawyers and prosecutors huddled around to hear their answers. Onlookers could only hear whether a prospective juror was excused or retained in the pool.

Eighteen jurors must be seated. That number includes six alternates, who will be randomly selected immediately before deliberations.

The trial will not be the end of Hernandez's legal troubles. He faces separate murder charges in Boston, where he is accused of killing two men after one of them accidentally spilled a drink on him at a nightclub in 2012. The trial date has not yet been set.

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