If they find Hernandez guilty of murder based on the Commonwealth's circumstantial evidence presented, they could find him guilty of first degree murder or second degree murder. In Massachusetts, if the jury found that Hernandez was guilty of killing Odin Lloyd, they would then have to unanimously decide between a first degree murder or second degree murder conviction. To prove first degree murder, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hernandez killed Lloyd with deliberate premeditation, or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, or both.
The Massachusetts statutory definition of murder is found at Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, "Crimes Against the Person", Section 1, "Murder Defined" :
"Section 1. Murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought, or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, or in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life, is murder in the first degree. Murder which does not appear to be in the first degree is murder in the second degree. Petit treason shall be prosecuted and punished as murder. The degree of murder shall be found by the jury."
Though the jury's job is not easy in any circumstantial murder case, it is perhaps more difficult in Massachusetts, where the jury could also find Hernandez guilty of murder under Massachusetts' somewhat confusing "joint venture" law. In Hernandez' case, no murder weapon was recovered and there is no direct evidence of which of three men present at Lloyd's shooting actually killed him. Mere presence at the scene by Hernandez, which his defense admitted, is not sufficient to sustain a murder conviction. To prove Hernandez guilty by "joint venture", the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hernandez knowingly participated in the crime, and that he did so with the intent required to commit that crime. Mere presence or even failure to stop the crime is insufficient for a guilty verdict.
Weighing an entirely circumstantial case, even where there are some bad facts for Hernandez, won't be easy for the jury, particularly when they have to consider what. if any, Hernandez' role was in the killing, besides being merely present when it happened. Likewise troubling may be the lack of any apparent motive for the millionaire tight end to throw away a promising NFL career.
Attorney Mark Stevens
Law Offices of Mark Stevens
Admitted in Massachusetts and New Hampshire
5 Manor Parkway
Salem, NH 03079