FALL RIVER, Mass. - A photographer for a Boston TV station was banned from the murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez on Thursday after he acknowledged following jurors to their parking spots, which the judge said was prohibited.
On the third day of deliberations, Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh banned WHDH-TV's Robert Cusanelli from the courthouse.
"He cannot come into this building or be driving a WHDH vehicle for the purpose of doing reporting work on this case," the judge said from the bench after Cusanelli testified under oath.
Two jurors informed the court Thursday morning that they saw someone watching them in a Ford Explorer. One took a picture of its license plate.
Cusanelli was questioned in court by a lawyer for the station and acknowledged that he followed the jurors, saying he made the decision to do so on his own to find out where jurors were parking. He said he didn't talk to the jurors, didn't take their pictures or write down their license plate numbers and at the time thought he wasn't doing anything wrong.
"I see now that it was a mistake," he said.
The station said in a statement before Cusanelli testified that it didn't approach or talk to any juror.
"We also did not videotape or take pictures of any juror," it said. "We are continuing to work with the court and investigate the situation."
The judge said she would not sanction the station further. The station didn't immediately return a message seeking further comment about Cusanelli and whether he'd be disciplined.
Jurors began deliberating this week. As of Thursday afternoon they had sent six notes asking questions such as clarification about the weapon and ammunition possession charges Hernandez faces and requesting a list of the 439 exhibits. They were scheduled to return to court Friday.
Hernandez, who grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, is charged with the June 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancee's sister. Lloyd was found shot six times in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez's North Attleborough home.
The judge said following jurors was a serious matter and a potential felony that could have resulted in a mistrial. She had said if no one from WHDH testified under oath about what happened she would ban the station.
The judge also issued a written order that no one shall approach, follow, contact, harass, photograph or take down the license plates of jurors, and then she had the order distributed to members of the media assembled at the courthouse.