Prosecutors in Aaron Hernandez murder case want judge to step aside

FALL RIVER — Government lawyers in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial are asking the judge to recuse herself, citing prior clashes that she had with the lead prosecutor in the high-profile case.

During a pre-trial hearing in Bristol Superior Court, Judge E. Susan Garsh did not rule on the motion to have her step aside, but set a hearing on the matter for Oct. 21.

James Sultan, a lawyer for Hernandez, said his team will object to the move.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“This is a serious matter, and . . . I would like an opportunity to respond in writing and have a hearing on the motion,” Sultan said.

In court papers supporting the recusal motion, prosecutors wrote that First Assistant District Attorney William McCauley and Garsh “have a well-known and publicly documented history of antagonism — a history that has, in the past, generated broad public comment and concern.”

They continued, “The relentless public focus on any signs of friction between judge and prosecutor . . . might reasonably impair the ability of each to execute his or her sworn duties effectively.”

In a court filing in a separate case, which prosecutors included as part of the recusal motion, McCauley referenced the murder trial of George Duarte, formerly of New Bedford, who was convicted in 2010 in the fatal shooting of a teenager. McCauley was on that successful prosecution team.

During that trial, McCauley wrote, “Judge Garsh engaged in conduct that I believe evidenced a bias against the Commonwealth, which I stated at that time. Her words, tone and behavior were unnecessary, discourteous, and demeaning. Counsel for the defendant was not subjected to this same hostile treatment.”

McCauley also wrote that Garsh “did not fairly exercise [her] discretion in making rulings” and “made erroneous findings of law” during the trial. He did not discuss those claims during Wednesday’s hearing.

Separately, Hernandez took the stand Wednesday to answer questions from Garsh about a potential conflict involving one of his lawyers, Michael Fee.

Fee works in the same firm, but in a separate practice area, as the wife of prosecutor Patrick Bomberg.

Speaking in a quiet voice, Hernandez said he was aware of the situation and wanted to keep “my lawyer, Mr. Fee.”

At one point, Garsh asked Hernandez what he did for a living, and he replied, “I played football. NFL.”

The former New England Patriots tight end is facing murder and weapons charges in the June shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, a Dorchester resident whose body was found near Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough.

Hernandez, 23, has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

Members of Lloyd’s family attended Wednesday’s hearing but left court without commenting.

“We are very much looking forward to Aaron’s day in court,” said Charles Rankin, one of Hernandez’s lawyers, after the hearing.