“We are at a stage of this case where it is vital that no juror be approached, or questioned or followed in any fashion,” Judge Susan Garsh said.

Judge Susan Garsh on Thursday said that two jurors were followed by local Boston news channel WHDH-TV after the second day of deliberations ended.  The two jurors told the judge Thursday morning that the Boston television station SUV, a silver Ford Explorer, was present at their jury parking area and that it approached them.  Both jurors – one man and one woman – remain on the jury.

“It was one person in the vehicle; it was in the parking lot,” Garsh explained later of a van she identified as belonging to WHDH-TV, the NBC affiliate in Boston, “It slowed down as jurors were pulling out. It was looking at the jurors [in a way] the jurors deemed inappropriate.”

Jurors park or get dropped off at a parking lot away from the courthouse and are then transported to the courthouse in a secure van, in an attempt to protect the jurors from outside influence from the media, families, or the public.  The Hernandez case has attracted a major media presence. Judge Garsh made it clear that there was no legitimate reason for the media to be present in such a location.

After Garsh held individual meetings with the jurors discussing the issue, she announced it to the court, calling it a serious violation that could have resulted in a mistrial.

The male juror had taken a cell phone photograph of the television station’s SUV’s license plates, which he provided to the court.  He said that he was walking to his truck when a suspicious SUV stopped near him.  The driver leered at him and then pulled away.  The SUV circled around the block and returned.

“I thought it was very strange that I saw the same vehicle go up, come back, and then I saw him again on the other side [of the parking lot],” the juror explained to Garsh, “You could clearly see it stopped.”

Garsh demanded that a hearing immediately occur where either the driver of the vehicle or a representative of WHDH testify under oath as to why the driver was there and acted in that manner. Before the hearing, but after the SUV was identified as belonging to the station, WHDH publicly denied any wrongdoing.

“This morning, in the Aaron Hernandez trial, the judge questioned 7News as to any impropriety with the jury in the case. 7News did not approach any juror or talk to any juror. We also did not videotape or take pictures of any juror. We are continuing to work with the court and investigate the situation,” WHDH said.

“If he wishes to assert his Fifth Amendment rights then at a minimum I need someone from the company to say they conducted an investigation that if any editor or producer directed that person,” Garsh said.

The driver, a photographer for the station, Bob Cusanelli, was banned from entering the courthouse or working out of the courthouse parking spot assigned to the station “until there is a verdict”.

Cusanelli testified under oath that he was gathering information that would be important to the station in the future.  The 16-year station veteran said he was not acting under a direct order from his superiors and denied contacting any jurors.  He testified that he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, but he “sees now it was a mistake.” Garsh said she found that there was no apparent “intent by WHDH to undermine the court’s order or undermine the deliberations”.

Garsh went on to say that depending upon how the jurors felt after the encounter (both jurors said that it did not effect their ability to be impartial), both jurors could have been excused.  The current jury only has three alternates. The case which has lasted 10 weeks and has had enormous resources devoted to it was very close to mistrial.

“It would have left us with one alternate fairly early in the deliberation,” Garsh said.

If the jurors had been replaced, deliberations would have had to restart with almost 9 hours of work rendered void. Garsh questioned WHDH reporter Bryon Barnett, at the hearing.  She instructed him to find out what happened and explain it to her later.  She threatened to ban the entire station from the trial.

“This is a very serious matter,” Garsh said.

It is a felony under Massachusetts law to question, harass, or intimidate a juror at any time during a trial.  A person convicted of this crime faces up to 10 years in prison and $5,000 fine.

Garsh reiterated the law to the present media, “To all of you.  You cannot approach, question, harass [or] follow any juror.”

Garsh amended her order after the incident to read that the media can’t “approach, follow, contact, harass, photograph, take license plate of, attempt to influence, interfere with, communicate with or tamper with a deliberating juror or alternate juror in this case.”

Aaron Hernandez, 25, former New England Patriots tightend is charged with the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, 27.  Lloyd was found shot to death in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez’s home.  If convicted Hernandez faces life without parole.

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