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What does it mean to the defense in the Aaron Hernandez case that Ortiz and Wallace have been indicted for Murder?

This week featured a new development in the Aaron Hernandez case with Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace being indicted on murder charges.

Does this help the Hernandez defense team? From the start, Hernandez primary defense was likely to be that either Ortiz or Wallace committed the murder without his knowledge and that he was merely a bystander. Since no murder weapon was found and there is no evidence as to what happened in the industrial complex, Hernandez would argue that there is simply not enough evidence to prove that he committed the murder.

Massachusetts law does allow for a conviction of murder on what is referred to as a joint venture theory. Accordingly, if all three had the shared intent to murder, it would not matter who actually pulled the trigger; all three defendants could be convicted of first-degree murder.

A joint venture requires the Commonwealth to prove two things:

  1. That the defendant knowingly participated in the commission of a crime;
  2. Did so with the intent required to commit that crime.

At a trial, the jury would be instructed that mere presence at the scene and not preventing the commission of the crime is not enough for a conviction under a joint venture theory. The Commonwealth must establish a shared intent to carry out the commission of the offense.

It does not appear that any new evidence justified enhancing the charges against Ortiz or Wallace according to the Attorney for Ortiz as reported in MyFoxBoston.com.

It is likely that since no murder weapon was found and the Commonwealth has not received the cooperation of Ortiz or Wallace that the Commonwealth feels that the best chance for a conviction is to pursue a joint venture theory and argue that all three had the shared intent to kill Lloyd. An Article in the Boston Globe suggested that the prosecution may feel that it would have a stronger argument on a joint venture theory if all three defendants are charged with murder.

The case seems to be the strongest against Hernandez since there is surveillance of him holding a gun shortly after the incident. However, the new charges coming at a later time suggest that the Commonwealth cannot prove how the death occurred. The defense for Hernandez may suggest it was a rush to charge Hernandez and that the Commonwealth did not properly investigate the case to explore the possibility that Ortiz or Wallace carried out the murder without Hernandez’s knowledge. Part of the strategy of the defense could involve attacking the investigation as centering around gathering evidence to prosecutor Hernandez without exploring alternative theories in an effort to argue that Hernandez’s celebrity status influenced the contours of the investigation, leaving the jury insufficient evidence to support a conviction on the murder charge. Overall, the indictment of Lloyd and Ortiz likely helps the defense in the Hernandez case as it indicates that the Commonwealth believes that Lloyd and Ortiz had at least equal participation with Hernandez and may make it easier for the Hernandez defense team to argue that either Lloyd or Ortiz carried out the murder and that Hernandez did not share the intent to commit murder.

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