The following are excerpts from Erin Ashwell’s interview on Virginia Talk Radio Network’s Sportsline. Radio personalities Richard Roth and Ed Lane asked Erin to share her thoughts on the Aaron Hernandez verdict.
Q. Rich Roth: Erin Ashwell, one of the Principals at Woods Rogers joins us now on the SportsLine. Hi Erin how are you?
A. Erin Ashwell: Good, thanks so much for having me.
Q. Rich Roth: We appreciate you taking a couple minutes for us. Obviously, a lot going on yesterday, and the story will continue but I don’t know if it was a shocking development in the Aaron Hernandez case yesterday, but certainly one that received an awful lot of discussion. What were your thoughts when you heard the verdict?
A. Erin Ashwell: I was a little surprised they got him on first degree murder. The jury had the option of going with first degree which carried the mandatory life sentence, without parole; or going with second degree. You don’t have a murder weapon, and the prosecution never put on a clear motive. With the jury out for as long as they were out I thought maybe there would be a hung jury? Maybe they were going to compromise and go with a lower murder charge.
Q. Ed Lane: You touched on the surprise of the first degree murder charge, what role did Hernandez’s defense team play in almost hurting him by effectively placing him at the scene of the crime? How much do you think that impacted things?
A. Erin Ashwell: Well, a lot of people have been commenting on this because one of the jurors brought it up in a post-trial press conference, and I’ve got to say it’s pretty unusual also to see jurors come out and do a press conference like that. I think that was a really tough call for their defense and I think the prosecution backed them into it. The prosecution put on a lot of evidence where they basically could trace Hernandez’s cell phone pinging between different cell towers in Massachusetts, showing him traveling out to the industrial park where Odin Lloyd was killed. If you’re the defense attorney, and you’re giving your closing, you can either deny reality and say, “no way he was there!” Or you can try to gain some credibility with the jury, so I get where their strategy was going and I am a little surprised that the jurors found that so impactful.
Q. Rich Roth: Talking about that and the fact that the jurors actually had a press conference, that is very uncommon. Typically everything is done to protect these folk’s anonymity and there they are on camera, faces not blurred, none of that. You said that surprised you right?
A. Erin Ashwell: Yes, I think something for the defense going forward is, he gets an automatic appeal. The defense has tried to move this case in part because of all of the publicity and I expect that this is something that will come up again on appeal. That this got so much attention, and people have been so outspoken. Here’s where I think it gets really kind of dicey with all this post-trial publicity, he’s got another murder charge coming. He has been accused of shooting two men in 2012, accused of following them out of a night club and killing them. That trial is going to move forward in a neighboring jurisdiction around Boston sometime early next year. That jury pool is hearing all of this.
Q. Ed Lane: You touched on his two other outstanding trials, how does this conviction impact Hernandez being tried, put on the stand, and going to court in the other murder cases that are there against him?
A. Erin Ashwell: A judge almost certainly is not going to let in the fact that he’s been convicted of murder elsewhere in another murder trial. This 2012 case is supposed to have happened before the case for which he was just tried, but for him (Hernandez) it probably changes the way he looks at it. He’s already been convicted and faces life without parole. On one hand, why not just try this other murder case and see what happens, other than money, what else does he have to lose? If you’re the prosecutor in the other jurisdiction you are going to be thinking, “am I going to have a harder time trying this because of all of the publicity or is it going to be easier because the jury is going to have some preconceived notions about him?”
Q. Rich Roth: Let me ask you about a subject that you brought up which is the appeal. You said he’s got an automatic appeal because he’s been convicted of first degree manslaughter. Everyone says you just appeal an retry the case but that’s not really what it’s about right? There have to be points of law that you can argue and hopefully get this thing overturned on. You don’t get to retry the whole case.
A. Erin Ashwell: Right, and his defense his defense team has two guys who are known within Massachusetts for being great at getting verdicts overturned on appeal. What they are looking for is where the judge has let in evidence that is really harmful, that should never have gotten in front of the jury or for something like an error in jury instruction. That’s going to be a heavy lift in this case because the trial judge was very conservative and kept out a lot of the prosecution’s evidence, including things like text messages from the victim the night he was killed. I don’t see a ton of ready appeal points for Hernandez and that’s going to make his appeal hard.
Q. Rich Roth: If you’re a judge, the last thing you want is your case being overturned on an appeal because you screwed something up, do we see this quite a bit in high profile cases, where judges will bend over backwards almost to cater to the defense so that they don’t get the case turned over on appeal?
A. Erin Ashwell: Defense attorneys will tell you that’s not the case but you hate to have to try the same case twice if you’re a judge, it’s a hard use of your jury’s time and most courts are pretty busy. I don’t think judges ever want to bend over backwards but I would certainly say this judge was very conservative in the evidence she led in and that probably benefited Hernandez.
Rich Roth: Erin, Thank you so much!
Listen here: http://bit.ly/1bldfEI