Judge Bans News Photographer From Hernandez Trial for Following Jurors

Bristol Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh instructed the jury during closing arguments of the murder trial of former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez.
Bristol Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh instructed the jury during closing arguments of the murder trial of former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez. –REUTERS

A Boston TV news photgrapher was barred from the Aaron Hernandez trial on Thursday, after two jurors reported being followed after Wednesday’s deliberations. Robert Cusanelli, 54, a photographer and editor for WHDH-TV, testified under oath Thursday that he followed the jury bus.

Judge E. Susan Garsh said she was barring Cusanelli from entering the Bristol Superior Court building, as well as from driving a WHDH vehicle for the purpose of doing reporting work on the case, until a verdict has been rendered in the murder trial.

Cusanelli said his station “thought it would be a good idea’’ to determine the location where jurors parked, though he said no one specifically directed him to follow the bus, which brings jurors to and from the courthouse.

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Cusanelli, a 16-year veteran at the station, said that though he now regrets his actions, he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong at the time.

Asked by the judge whether he contacted or interacted with any of the jurors, Cusanelli replied, “No, I know that’s forbidden.’’

Neither Cusanelli nor WHDH will recieve any further sanctions, Garsh said.

Before the jury continued deliberations on a verdict Thursday morning, one juror approached Garsh to report they noticed a Ford Explorer circle around near the parking lot where the jury bus dropped them off after Wednesday’s deliberations (jurors park their personal cars at a separate location and are brought to and from the courthouse in a designated bus). The juror said they took a picture of the vehicle’s license plate.

A second juror also confirmed noticing the vehicle. Neither of them said it would have any impact on their ability to remain fair and impartial in the case. Garsh warned that if the incident afftected more than three jurors, it would have resulted in a mistrial.

WHDH released a statement Thursday that they did not approach or contact any juror, though the statement did not mention whether any juror was followed:

“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.’’

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A lawyer for WHDH said in court that “clearly’’ Cusanelli’s intention was to put the station in a position to talk with the jurors after they were discharged from service. The lawyer said WHDH, as a new organization, “takes these issues very seriously’’ and takes seriously the providence of the jury.

Garsh issued a new written statement Thursday afternoon to reporters covering the case, warning that anyone who attempted to approach, contact, photograph, or follow a juror could be held in contempt of court. She said she accepted that the station was not trying to undermine the court’s order.

Earlier, Garsh warned all those in the courtroom that jury harassment is a felony.

“To all of you, you cannot approach, question, harass, or follow any juror and there are state felony statues that prohibit any form of juror harassment,’’ she said.

Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end, is charged with the first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd, as well as several illegal gun and ammunition possession charges.

Jurors finished their third day of deliberations Thursday without reaching a verdict.

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October 15, 2018 | 10:02 AM