Hernandez trial: Glock Inc. district manager gives damaging testimony

Bristol County (Mass.) prosecutors have struggled to connect Aaron Hernandez to the type of semiautomatic pistol prosecutors contend was used to murder Odin Lloyd. All that changed on Wednesday, the 25th day of the trial, when Glock Inc. district manager Kyle Aspinwall took the stand.
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Bristol County (Mass.) prosecutors have struggled to connect Aaron Hernandez to a .45-caliber Glock pistol—the type of semiautomatic pistol prosecutors contend was used to murder Odin Lloyd in an industrial park located within a mile of Hernandez’s North Attleboro (Mass.) mansion. All that changed on Wednesday, the 25th day of the trial, when Glock Inc. district manager Kyle Aspinwall took the stand.

Aspinwall, a former New Hampshire police officer and former chief of the Mont Vernon (NH) Police Department, analyzed numerous video and still photographs of Hernandez walking in and around his home shortly after Lloyd’s death. Hernandez appears at his driveway, front door and pool area, and also in his foyer, living room and kitchen. All of the imaging was taken courtesy of Hernandez’s sophisticated home surveillance system. At times Hernandez appears alongside co-defendants Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, including when they arrived at Hernandez’s home in a sliver Nissan Altima. Jurors surely noticed the video’s timestamp, which indicated the trio arrived within 10-to-15 minutes of Lloyd’s death.

TRIAL COVERAGE: Opening statements | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24

Once Hernandez entered his home, he walked in different rooms. Of crucial importance Hernandez is shown holding a black item, sometimes in his right hand and other times in his left hand. The black item resembles a pistol, but in fairness to Hernandez, the black item also bears a resemblance to other items, including a television remote. Also, the black item at times appears blurry and at other times is shown at a considerable distance from the security camera. Aspinwall, however, left jurors with little doubt that he believes the item was a firearm, and specifically a Glock semiautomatic pistol. Aspinwall told Bristol County assistant district attorney Phillip Bomberg he had “reasonable certainty” in this conclusion. “In my opinion,” Aspinwall reflected, “the firearm shown in the video still is a Glock pistol."

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​Aspinwall gave jurors reason to trust his judgment. He spoke at length about the uniqueness of Glock guns, particularly in regards to the curvature of a Glock’s back strap and other distinctive attributes found in a Glock’s magazine well, front strap and trigger guard. According to Aspinwall, a Glock is hard to mistake for other types of pistols because of these qualities.  Aspinwall enhanced his testimony by holding up an actual Glock semiautomatic pistol to visualize his descriptions.

Impact of Aspinwall’s testimony and related significance of “joint venture”

Aspinwall’s testimony is likely the most damaging evidence presented against Hernandez thus far in the trial. Consider what happened today: Jurors heard from a person who is very familiar with Glock semiautomatic pistols and that person told them that Hernandez was holding a Glock semiautomatic pistol minutes after Lloyd’s death. This was a persuasive and incriminating sequence in the trial. Worse yet for Hernandez, Aspinwall’s testimony was accompanied by damning video and imaging. It would not take much for jurors to deduce that if Hernandez is holding the murder weapon minutes after the murder, Hernandez must be connected to the murder.

Prosecutors, moreover, do not need to prove that Hernandez shot Lloyd in order to convict him of murder. As I have explained in other SI.com legal analyses of the Hernandez trial, Massachusetts allows convictions based on a “joint venture” theory. This theory means that if Hernandez shared the intent to kill Lloyd and significantly contributed to Lloyd's murder, jurors can convict Hernandez of murder even if they aren’t convinced he shot Lloyd. Hernandez as the getaway driver, or Hernandez encouraging Wallace or Ortiz to shoot Lloyd, could be enough—provided prosecutors also convince jurors that Hernandez shared in the intent to kill Lloyd. Proving intent remains a hurdle for the prosecution, which has yet to explain why Hernandez, who seemed to enjoy hanging out with Lloyd and who allegedly viewed Lloyd as his “blunt master,” would want Lloyd killed.

Defense attacks expertise of Aspinwall and his testimony

Prior to Aspinwall offering jurors his opinion about Hernandez carrying a Glock semiautomatic pistol, Hernandez attorney James Sultan requested that Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh bar Aspinwall from sharing this opinion. Sultan portrayed Aspinwall as a mere sales person who lacks the requisite expertise to knowledgeably comment about the black item in Hernandez’s hands. Aspinwall, in Sultan’s view, is a layperson whose opinion about the black item is no more authoritative than the opinions of jurors. Judge Garsh rejected Sultan’s characterization of Aspinwall. She ruled that Aspinwall, a former police officer who teaches courses on Glocks, clearly possessed sufficient training and background. To be sure, if Hernandez is ultimately convicted for the murder of Lloyd, his attorneys will appeal and they will likely raise Judge Garsh's decision to allow Aspinwall's testimony as one grounds for a reversal.

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​Sultan nonetheless tried to cast doubts about Apsinwall and his testimony during cross-examination, which will continue on Thursday. On Wednesday Sultan led Aspinwall to acknowledge other companies have manufactured firearms that look like Glocks, and that there are approximately 42 different types of Glock semiautomatic pistols and about a dozen Glock models that fire .45-caliber ammunition. The purpose of Sultan’s questioning was to suggest to jurors that Hernandez holding what may have been a gun—even a Glock semiautomatic pistol—does not establish it was the type of .45-caliber Glock pistol connected to Lloyd’s death. Similarly, Sultan alerted jurors that Glock has filed an intellectual property lawsuit against the makers of a soft pellet gun that, in Glock’s view, too closely resembles a Glock pistol. Sultan wants jurors to conclude that Aspinwall’s testimony discounts the possibility that the item in Hernandez’s hands had nothing to do with Lloyd’s murder.

When his cross-examination of Apsinwall resumes on Thursday, watch for Sultan to highlight the occasional blurriness in the video as well as the distance between Hernandez and the camera. Additionally, Sultan might subtly remind jurors that Hernandez has been associated with other guns during this trial, which raises the possibility he may have been holding one of those guns—and not the murder weapon—while on the video.

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Hernandez’s attorneys enjoyed greater success earlier on Wednesday when Jeffrey Keane, the director of security at the W Hotel in Boston, took the stand. Keane testified about his recollection of Hernandez outside the hotel between 12:50 a.m. and 1:50 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, 2013. Keane’s testimony followed Tuesday's testimony by the hotel’s valet account manager, Samson Michael, who testified that he thought he saw Hernandez tuck a semiautomatic pistol into his waistband. Michael cautioned, however, that he only saw Hernandez’s waistband for a few seconds, and did so through a car window and from about 18 feet away. Keane, in contrast, watched Hernandez for between four and five minutes and within about 10 feet.

To aid Keane’s testimony, surveillance video and still images of streets around the hotel were shown. The imagery depicted Hernandez on a street corner wearing jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap. Hernandez is also seen walking with Lloyd and others to the adjacent nightclub Rumor. Keane recalled Hernandez kept both hands in the pouch of his sweatshirt. Keane also told the court he thought it was unusual that a “local celebrity” like Hernandez would “mull around” in a crowd, seemingly waiting for someone.

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​Hernandez attorney Michael Fee capably cross-examined Keane, who acknowledged that he was “assessing” Hernandez while watching him at the behest of Michael. Keane admitted that Hernandez was not moving in a “twitchy” way and did not seem agitated. Video, in fact, seems to display a friendly Hernandez talking to nearby individuals, who might have recognized the then New England Patriots star. Fee also led Keane to admit that, given the nearby bars were about to close at 2 a.m., there was likely a considerable presence of uniformed and plain-clothed police officers nearby. Fee wants jurors to reason that Hernandez would have been unlikely to engage in unlawful or suspicious activity with officers nearby. Last, and most importantly, Keane revealed that he did not believe Hernandez was carrying a gun. The “tightly fit” clothing of Hernandez, according Keane’s view, made it unlikely he would be carrying a firearm. “My conclusion was that Mr. Hernandez was not a threat,” Keane revealed.

Prosecutors file “interlocutory” appeal to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Judge Garsh’s rulings on testimony of Alexander Bradley and Robert Paradis

Judge Garsh has twice rejected prosecutors’ attempt to introduce evidence of Hernandez shooting his “friend” Alexander Bradley in the eye outside a Miami strip club in 2013. Hernandez was never charged for the shooting, but Bradley has filed a civil lawsuit against him.

As a general rule, evidence of bad acts is inadmissible on grounds it is irrelevant to the trial and might unduly prejudice jurors against the defendant. Prosecutors, however, contend that Hernandez attorney Fee “opened the door” for the introduction of character evidence after suggesting to jurors that Hernandez would not shoot Lloyd because they were friends. Once a defendant makes his character an issue, a judge can permit the prosecution to introduce unflattering evidence about the defendant’s character. As I previously explained, however, Judge Garsh had multiple reasons to reject evidence of Hernandez shooting Lloyd, even after Fee’s remarks to jurors. Prosecutors now want the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) to take this issue up since it could help them establish Hernandez would, in fact, shoot a friend. Odds are against the appeal succeeding. Judge Garsh’s decision seemed consistent with the law and it is also uncommon for an interlocutory appeal—one raised before a trial ends—to work.

For similar reasons, odds are against the SJC reversing Judge Garsh on her decision to exclude the testimony of another Hernandez “friend,” Robert Paradis, who met up with Hernandez in California six weeks before Lloyd’s death. While Paradis didn’t directly observe Hernandez with a gun, he thought he felt a gun in Hernandez’s shirt. This testimony appears to be speculative and arguably more prejudicial than probative. It is unlikely the SJC will allow jurors to hear it.