Ronald Sullivan, the Harvard Law School professor who helped defend former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez on double murder charges, accused the judge who presided over the case of “lying” to jurors about their ability to sit on the final jury which deliberated the case.
Watch the discussion yourself by viewing the video above. Hernandez was acquitted of seven charges, including murder and witness intimidation. He was convicted on a minor weapons possession charge. Sullivan made the accusation against Judge Jeffrey Locke during an exclusive interview with host Heather Hansen on the LawNewz Network.
At the outset of the case, Judge Locke told members of the jury pool that they would have an equal chance of sitting on the final jury which would deliberate the case (after alternates were picked).
“He said in open court to the jury that ‘each of you has an equal chance of remaining on the jury and each of you has an equal chance of being excluded from the jury,'” Sullivan told the LawNewz Network.
“What he did was different from that. Once he articulated a different procedure, my view is that he should have been honest with the jury and stayed with that procedure. Instead, Judge Locke lied to this jury and did something very different than what he said he was going to do. He prejudiced the people of color on the jury by not giving them an equal opportunity to serve as foreperson,” Sullivan claims.
The issue surrounds a rule of criminal procedure in Massachusetts which, depending on interpretation, either requires or allows a judge to select a foreperson for the jury before alternates are removed from the pool which deliberates. The rule is Massachusetts Criminal Procedure Rule 20(d)(2). Sullivan argued at trial that the procedure ultimately “immunizes” one juror from the chance of being pulled out as an alternate. In other words, not every juror has an “equal” chance of being removed as an alternate.
After initially promising jurors an “equal” chance of serving on the jury, Judge Locke went on to choose a white woman as foreperson, Sullivan argued. The jury was predominantly an ethnic jury, Sullivan pointed out.
“When you lie to a jury like that, I have an obligation on behalf of my client to assert his due process and equal protection rights,” he told the LawNewz Network. In court, Judge Locke defended his pick of a white woman as foreperson by saying that “it would be foolish to take a well-qualified juror, who had given close and careful attention throughout the trial, and who would be able to perform that function, and then knock them off just by random draw.”
Sullivan took exception to the judge’s rationale.
“This was something out of the 1950s,” Sullivan said.
“All of the black and brown jurors were subject, in Judge Locke’s words, to getting knocked off by a random draw. I was unbelievably, as a personal matter, offended . . . I’m not even sure the judge realized the import of how racist those words actually were,” Sullivan went on to say.
“Thank God for the record,” Sullivan explained, because those words “came out of [the judge’s] mouth.”
In court, Locke construed Sullivan’s objection to suggest that Sullivan was arguing that a white woman couldn’t serve as foreperson. “That argument is so absurd that it hardly requires a serious response,” Sullivan opined on the LawNewz Network.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue of race as it relates to juries in Batson v. Kentucky. That decision held that it was a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution to strike members of the jury pool based on race.
“There was a time not too long ago in our history where black jurors specifically were systematically excluded from jury service. Batson put a stop to that,” Sullivan told the LawNewz Network.
“My argument was an extension of Batson. It’s that you can’t systematically exclude black and hispanic jurors from being the foreperson, either,” he explained.
Sullivan believes that the Massachusetts Criminal Procedure Rule at play here needs to be changed.
“The rule of procedure is an antiquated rule and it leads to the sorts of problems I highlighted with my objection. The legislature here in Massachusetts would be wise to have a rule that is in line with the majority of other jurisdictions,” Sullivan told the LawNewz Network.
Sullivan said that had the judge not promised jurors an “equal” chance of serving on the final jury, he would not have lodged an objection, despite his overall issues with the Massachusetts criminal procedure rule at play.
Hernandez had been accused of killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado after they left a Boston nightclub in July 2012. Despite his acquittal in the de Abreu and Furtado cases, Hernandez remains serving a prison sentence for the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013. He was convicted separately in that case.