April 6, 2015 / 4:43 PM / 3 years ago

Defense casts doubt on Hernandez role in murder

FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) - Defense attorneys for ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez rested their case on Monday in his murder trial after calling three witnesses including a drugs expert and two forensics analysts.

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez with attorney Charles Rankin view an image of the bubble gum and the bullet shell on the screen during his murder trial at Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts, April 6, 2015. REUTERS/Ted Fitzgerald/Pool

The drugs expert, Dr. David Greenblatt of Tufts University School of Medicine, said that PCP - a drug an earlier witness said may have been used by people who were with Hernandez at the time of the murder - could trigger violent behavior.

A forensics analyst testified Hernandez’s DNA was found on a piece of chewing gum stuck to a shell casing retrieved from the trash by investigators, and that the DNA could have been transferred to the shell from the gum.

The testimony played into the defense team’s suggestion that Hernandez’s friends may have committed the killing, and not the former New England Patriots tight end himself.

Hernandez, 25, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semiprofessional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Prosecutors say Hernandez and two friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, picked up Lloyd at his Boston home in the early hours of June 17, 2013, and shot him to death in an industrial park near Hernandez’s house in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Prosecutors called more than 120 witnesses in the trial since it began in late January. Closing statements will begin Tuesday before the jury deliberates.

On Monday, Dr. Greenblatt testified that PCP can make people sweaty or shaky, and hinder cognition. “It can cause violent behavior,” he told jurors.

Earlier in the trial, Jennifer Mercado, a cousin of Hernandez, testified that Wallace and Ortiz appeared jittery and sweaty when she saw them before the murder. She said they behaved similarly to when they had used PCP previously.

Wallace and Ortiz have been charged with murder and will be tried separately. They have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors called a rebuttal witness, psychiatrist Martin Brecher, who cast doubt on the link between PCP and violence.

Later on Monday, Jennifer Smith, who works for a private DNA testing lab, testified that a swab from a piece of gum that was stuck to an empty shell casing removed from a rental car returned by Hernandez after the murder matched his DNA profile.

She said “it is extremely likely some of the saliva that was in that gum was transferred to that casing.”

Editing by Richard Valdmanis, David Gregorio and Ted Botha

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