Judge in Aaron Hernandez murder trial declines to recuse self

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- The judge in the Aaron Hernandez murder case Monday rejected prosecutors' request to step aside because of what they called bias in an earlier case, saying she was free of it then, is free of it now and will be guided in her rulings only by the law.

Judge Susan Garsh heard 45 minutes of arguments in Fall River Superior Court from prosecutors and a defense attorney for the former New England Patriots tight end before issuing her ruling from the bench.

Garsh said she had "examined my emotions and consulted my conscience" and that she's satisfied she will oversee the trial free from prejudice.

"I do not fear or favor the Commonwealth or the defendant," she said. "A person aware of all facts and circumstances would not reasonably question my impartiality."

Bristol County district attorney Samuel Sutter said after the hearing that it had been fair and that the state will not appeal.

Asked if he believed Garsh would be fair, Sutter said: "She said that she would, and I take her at her word."

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to murder in the killing of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old semi-pro football player who was dating the sister of his girlfriend.

The prosecution earlier this month asked that Garsh step aside, citing a "well-known and publicly documented history of antagonism" between her and lead prosecutor William McCauley stemming from a 2010 murder trial he argued before her.

In court Monday and in filings, McCauley said Garsh was biased and hostile toward him, wrongfully excluded evidence and undermined his credibility in front of the jury in the case. He won the case with a conviction. Prosecutors said the media would sensationalize the friction.

McCauley insisted he was not trying to "judge shop" but rather wanted Garsh to address what he called unresolved issues; he filed the same motion in 2011 when she was assigned a case he was arguing. The motion was not heard at the time, and the case ended up going to another judge.

Defense attorney James Sultan on Monday objected to the recusal request, calling it "completely devoid of any factual or legal merit." He said the prosecution was trying to manipulate the selection of the judge because it didn't like who was assigned.

"That's not the way our system works," he said.

Outside court, Sultan declined to offer a reaction to Garsh's ruling, other than to say: "All we've ever wanted for Aaron is a fair trial."

Hernandez sat alongside his attorneys at the hearing, wearing a blazer and pink tie, and did not address the court. He is being held without bail.

In attendance in the gallery was his girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins, who last week pleaded not guilty to a perjury charge related to the case. Prosecutors allege she lied to the grand jury that indicted Hernandez, including about disposing of key evidence at his request.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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