Judge Garsh says she is unbiased and refuses to step aside in Aaron Hernandez murder trial

FALL RIVER—Saying she had searched her conscience, the judge assigned to the Aaron Hernandez murder trial on Monday rejected a motion from prosecutors to have her step aside.

“I have no bias against the Commonwealth or against First Assistant William McCauley,’’ Judge E. Susan Garsh said from the bench in Bristol Superior Court after hearing McCauley and another prosecutor argue for her recusal.

Prosecutors cited tensions between her and McCauley that they said erupted during and after a 2010 murder trial in the same court. But Garsh insisted she could remain unbiased in the case against the former New England Patriot, whose dramatic fall from stardom to accused killer has captivated the region.

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“I am free of any disabling prejudice toward the Commonwealth,” Garsh said. “I do not fear or favor the Commonwealth or the defendant.’’

A small group of Hernandez supporters, including one man who wore the former tight end’s No. 81 jersey, watched from the spectators gallery. Hernandez, wearing a pink tie and dark blazer, looked toward his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, as he was led away in handcuffs after the hearing.

Relatives of Odin Lloyd, the 27-year-old Dorchester man whom Hernandez is charged with murdering in June in an industrial yard near his North Attleborough home, also attended the hearing.

McCauley told Garsh that her prior rulings from the bench, her attitude toward him in front of jurors, and her unwarranted interruptions when he delivered his closing arguments in the 2010 trial showed she was “unnecessarily antagonistic” against the prosecution.

“This was not a motion that I filed to judge shop,’’ McCauley said.

The defendant in the 2010 case, George Duarte, was convicted in the fatal shooting of a teenager and is currently appealing.

Defense attorney James L. Sultan told Garsh that the prosecution’s motion was “utterly devoid” of any legal merit and the information they presented fell “abysmally short’’ of the standard needed to warrant recusal.

“It’s utterly frivolous,’’ he said.

Sultan also said lawyers often face adverse rulings from judges, and McCauley’s complaints about Garsh’s decisions in the 2010 murder trial are not a basis for recusal.

“There is no lifetime exception from appearing before the judge again,’’ Sultan said.

Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter said outside court that prosecutors received a fair hearing and will not appeal Garsh’s ruling.

He said Sultan “argued very effectively this afternoon,” but also that he takes exception to the defense suggestion that prosecutors claim Garsh is “biased against the Commonwealth.”

“If we thought she was biased against the Commonwealth, we would make this motion every single time,” Sutter said. “We’ve made this motion twice.”

Sutter was referring to another murder case in 2011, in which prosecutors also requested that Garsh step aside for reasons stemming from the Duarte trial. Garsh did not rule on that motion, and the case was ultimately reassigned.

“We don’t think she’s biased against the Commonwealth,” Sutter said. “We do think that she was increasingly antagonistic to the Commonwealth’s case in the Duarte case and to Bill McCauley personally.”

Sutter added that he holds Garsh in high regard and, despite the efforts of his staff to have her removed, spoke diplomatically when asked if she could be fair.

“She said that she was going to, and I take her at her word,” Sutter said.

Sultan declined to discuss Garsh’s ruling in detail outside court, focusing instead on his client.

“All we’ve ever wanted for Aaron is a fair trial,” Sultan said. “He continues to look forward to his day in court.”

Hernandez, 23, has pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons charges and is being held without bail. He smiled while he spoke with Michael Fee, one of his lawyers, at the defense table before the hearing began.

Jenkins, who faces a perjury charge in connection with the June 17 murder of Lloyd, also smiled before the hearing while she spoke with people seated near her in the courtroom. She has pleaded not guilty and remains free on personal recognizance.

Neither Jenkins nor relatives of Lloyd spoke to reporters outside court.

In addition to Jenkins, three other people with ties to Hernandez are facing criminal charges for their alleged actions after the slaying of Lloyd, who was dating Jenkins’ sister at the time of his death.

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