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Judge in ex-NFL star's murder case declines to step aside

Former New England Patriots NFL football playerAaron Hernandez, (C), sits with his attorneys James Sultan (L) and Michael Fee in Bristol Sup
Former New England Patriots NFL football playerAaron Hernandez, (C), sits with his attorneys James Sultan (L) and Michael Fee in Bristol Sup

By Daniel Lovering

FALL RIVER, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge declined to step down from the murder trial of ex-National Football League player Aaron Hernandez on Monday, saying she is not biased against the prosecutor.

Prosecutors had asked that Fall River Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh recuse herself from the case because she had been "antagonistic" toward prosecutor William McCauley in past trials. Prosecutors said they would not appeal Garsh's decision.

"I have examined my emotions and consulted my conscience, and I am satisfied that I harbor no bias," Garsh said. "I do not fear or favor the Commonwealth or the defendant."

McCauley had argued that Garsh had undermined his credibility during past proceedings, including a 2010 murder trial, by speaking to him dismissively, interrupting him and "sending signals (so) the jury would naturally think I was doing something wrong."

The former New England Patriots tight end is charged with the June 17 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player, in an industrial area near Hernandez's home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. The case has attracted intense media interest.

Hernandez, 23, was a star player with a $41 million contract when he was arrested on June 26. The Patriots dropped Hernandez a few hours after his arrest.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which include one count of murder and several firearms-related offenses. A trial date has not yet been set.

At Monday's hearing, Hernandez sat silently with his attorneys, wearing a dark jacket and a pink tie. The judge permitted his handcuffs to be removed.

Defense attorney James Sultan argued during the hearing that the motion lacked specific details and amounted to complaining about past rulings, which was not grounds for recusal.

"It's utterly frivolous as a matter of law," he said.

Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter told reporters outside the court that prosecutors would not appeal the judge's decision.

"We don't think she's biased against the Commonwealth," he said.

Hernandez is being held in Bristol County Jail while awaiting trial. The other men who were in the car that night, Carlos Orbitz and Ernest Wallace, have been charged with accessory to murder after the fact.

(Reporting by Daniel Lovering; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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