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Jury selection begins in Hernandez case
02:07 - Source: CNN

Watch “Downward Spiral: The Case against Aaron Hernandez” now on CNNgo.

Story highlights

Aaron Hernandez is going on trial, charged with murder in the shooting death of of Odin Lloyd

Prosecutors cannot tell jurors about texts from victim to his sister shortly before his death

Prosecutors can take jurors to Hernandez's home and the slaying site

CNN  — 

Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez used to make crowds cheer as a rising NFL star on the gridiron.

Now, both fans and foes will again be focused on Hernandez as he steps into the courtroom to go on trial on murder and weapons charges.

Jury selection begins Friday, as attorneys begin to whittle down a pool of more than 1,100 potential jurors to the small group that will decide whether Hernandez is guilty of murdering semipro football player Odin Lloyd. That pool is about 10 times larger than usual, largely because of concerns over finding an impartial jury. Attorneys will select 18 jurors, including six alternates.

Hernandez, 25, has pleaded not guilty. His friends Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz have also been charged with murder in Lloyd’s death. They have pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.

Aaron Hernandez’s downward spiral

So far, the state’s evidence against Hernandez, partially laid out in pretrial hearings, appears to be largely circumstantial.

A magistrate previously described it as “very strong.” But it could be stronger. In the months leading up to jury selection, Hernandez’s defense attorneys, who insist Hernandez will be exonerated, have been trying to chip away at the prosecution’s case.

Hernandez’s legal team, led by Jamie Sultan, Michael Fee, and Charles Rankin, has won some important rulings.

Lloyd’s texts to his sister: For example, the jury won’t hear about text messages between the victim, Odin Lloyd, and his younger sister, sent just minutes before Lloyd’s death. The judge has blocked them.

At about 3:20 a.m. on June 17, 2013, prosecutors say, Lloyd was in a car driven by Hernandez with Wallace and Ortiz.

At 3:07 a.m., according to prosecutors, Lloyd texted his sister Shaquilla Thibou a question: “U saw who I’m with(?)” Her phone was off, which delayed her response. At 3:22 a.m., Lloyd texted, “Nfl.” A minute later, at 3:23 a.m. he sent his last text, “just so u know.”

Minutes later, witnesses heard shots fired at an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s home, they told prosecutors.

But Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh ruled there is not enough proof the text message meant Lloyd feared for his life, legally called “a dying declaration.”

The defense has argued the messages are innocuous, suggesting Lloyd could have been bragging about being with Hernandez.

Some legal experts are surprised those texts were ruled inadmissible.

“They appear relevant,” said University of New Hampshire law professor Michael McCann.

“They signal what the victim was thinking before he was killed and they arguably refer to the defendant as well,” he added.

If they had been admitted, McCann said, the defense and prosecution could have debated the meaning and let the jurors weigh the arguments

Hernandez’s texts to Lloyd: Jurors will, however, be able to see texts between Hernandez and Lloyd from earlier that night when the football player invited Lloyd to hang out.

Who’s who in the case against Hernandez

The weapon: It’s never been found. That could be a problem for jurors. In court papers, prosecutors have suggested the gun may have been thrown away by Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. She’s on the prosecution witness list but has denied any knowledge of the weapon, believed to be a .45-caliber handgun, according to documents. She has been accused of lying to a grand jury and has pleaded not guilty to the perjury charge.

The surveillance video: Prosecutors will be able to show Hernandez on his home surveillance video system walking toward his basement door holding what prosecutors say appears to be a gun. The authorities say the video was recorded shortly after he returned home the night in question, minutes after witnesses reported hearing gunshots in the industrial park.

Investigators say a vehicle that appears to match the description of a car rented by Hernandez is seen on security cameras driving through the industrial park, allegedly with Hernandez, Wallace, Ortiz, and Lloyd inside.

But it’s unclear who fired the fatal shots. At this point, prosecutors have not publicly presented their theory. Was it Hernandez, Wallace or Ortiz, or some combination?

Prosecutors have said they plan to argue Lloyd’s murder was a “joint venture.” Under Massachusetts state law, prosecutors don’t necessarily have to prove who pulled the trigger. Under joint venture, says McMann, “anyone who actively participates in the murder can be held guilty for murder.”

The law will be explained to jurors, but will the state present enough evidence to prove it?

As late as November, with the trial around the corner, the state was still looking for more proof.

In a surprising move, investigators got a warrant to search Hernandez’s home again, more than a year after their last entry.

In court papers, detectives said they were looking for three pairs of sneakers photographed in a closet during their original 2013 search. They said the sneakers appear to match shoe prints found at the scene where Lloyd was fatally shot. But detectives left empty-handed. The shoes were not there.

One of the unanswered questions: Why weren’t the shoes seized during the original search?

Other accusations: Prosecutors also won’t be able to bring up other accusations against Hernandez. For example, if former Hernandez friend Alexander Bradley testifies, he won’t be able to mention he’s suing Hernandez for allegedly shooting him in the right eye a few months before Lloyd’s death. The shooting is inadmissible, Garsh ruled.

Nor will the jury be able to hear that Hernandez has been indicted for shooting to death two men in Boston after leaving a nightclub in 2012. He’s pleaded not guilty in that case, too, and the trial is pending.

Garsh ruled that the Bradley shooting in Florida and the Boston double slaying are far too prejudicial and that Lloyd’s case must stand on its own.

Will a show and tell help?

Prosecutors have permission from the judge to take jurors to see Hernandez’s home, as well as the shooting site. They will also be shown the location of some cell phone towers. Prosecutors suggest cell tower “pings” could connect Hernandez to the scene of Lloyd’s death.

Inside Hernandez’s home, jurors will see the layout and its multicamera video security system. Garsh ruled that a trophy case and Patriots jersey inside the home will remain in view. The prosecution had requested the memorabilia be covered up or removed so jurors couldn’t be swayed by Hernandez’s celebrity.

But first, a jury must be chosen. How hard will it be to find 18 people, including alternates, who can put aside whatever opinions they might have and view the evidence with open minds?

With Hernandez and his family watching, as well as the family and friends of victim Odin Lloyd, we’re about to find out.

CNN’s Michelle Rozsa and Laura Dolan contributed to this report.