Revelation after revelation about the shooting death of Odin Lloyd has appeared to tighten the net around former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. However, defense attorneys with experience in both high-profile criminal cases and murder investigations caution against passing swift public judgment on Hernandez's fate.
Why? Because of a simple phrase we've all heard so many times it's become rote: innocent until proven guilty.
Prosecutors must prove Hernandez guilty of the crime of murder. Hernandez has no burden to prove himself innocent; at the moment, legally speaking, he's as innocent of the crime as you or me.
These are facts: Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player who was at least an acquaintance of Aaron Hernandez, died early on the morning of June 17 from two gunshots from a .45-caliber firearm. He was in contact with Hernandez in the hours prior to his death. But the burden of proof in tying Hernandez to the crime falls to the state, and that can be a high bar to clear.
"Jurors typically scrutinize murder cases very closely because the stakes are so high," said J. Tom Morgan, an Atlanta defense attorney who's participated (as both prosecutor and defender) in some of Georgia's most high-profile cases of recent years, and one of several defense attorneys consulted by Yahoo! Sports for this story. "You're talking about putting someone in prison for life. They will hold a prosecutor to a higher standard. Legally, there's no justification for it, but in a murder trial, the jury is much more closely attuned than they would be to, say, a car theft."
For that reason, then, the state has to be absolutely airtight in its presentation of the entire case, from determining the charges against Hernandez to laying out the facts of the case in the course of a trial. And so far, Bristol County (Mass.) prosecutors appear to have learned from another high-profile murder case involving a well-known NFL player.
"They're not going to make the mistake of rushing that was made with Ray Lewis," says Kevin Farmer, an Atlanta public defender with substantial experience in defending clients accused of murder. "They're taking their time."