A jury in Fall River, Mass., found Aaron Hernandez guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a finding that means the former New England Patriots tight end will go to prison for life with no possibility of parole.
After a 10-week trial, five men and seven women determined that the crime rose to the level of first-degree murder because it was committed with extreme atrocity and cruelty, a shocking fall for a 25-year-old man who was on the cusp of a stellar NFL career when Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’ fiancee, was murdered in June 2013.
Although the prosecution was unable to offer a weapon, a motive or witnesses to the crime, jurors came to their conclusion after hearing testimony from 132 prosecution witnesses and deliberating for 35 hours. Two men who allegedly were with Hernandez on the night of the murder will also be tried for murder. Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, who were not called to testify in Hernandez’ trial, have pleaded not guilty. Hernandez may well be called to testify in those trials.
Prosecutors put together a strong circumstantial case that overcame deficiencies. The Glock weapon may not have been found, but home-surveillance video put a similar gun in Hernandez’ hand as he walked through his home shortly after shooting. And Hernandez’ lawyers made a key admission, saying that Hernandez witnessed the murder.
“He was a 23-year-old kid, who witnessed something, a shocking killing committed by someone he knew,” Hernandez’s lawyer James Sultan said in his closing statement. “He didn’t know what to do.”
Jurors did not buy that and testimony from Hernandez’ fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, didn’t really help. She testified that Hernandez instructed her to dispose of a box that weighed 30 pounds and smelled of marijuana, but she could not remember in which “random” dumpster she dumped it.
Jurors, who admitted afterward that their decision was reached tearfully, said they were surprised that the defense admitted Hernandez was at the scene. “We were all shocked by that,” one juror told reporters.
Jurors concluded that he bore at least some of the guilt for the crime, rejecting the defense’s claim that mere presence at the scene isn’t enough for a conviction. After being released by the judge, one juror said that the jury didn’t need the murder weapon to be certain Hernandez was guilty.
What happens next for Hernandez? Of course, his lawyers will file an appeal.
And he can count on returning to a courtroom. Hernandez will stand trial, possibly as early as May, in connection with the 2012 drive-by murders of two men in the Boston area. He has has pleaded not guilty to killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado after a nightclub encounter. Although Hernandez has been sentenced to life without possibility of parole in the Lloyd case, that double-murder prosecution will proceed.