Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez was acquitted of two counts of first-degree murder Friday, following six days of jury deliberations that lasted more than 40 hours, the Associated Press reports. The jury also acquitted Hernandez, 27, of having allegedly shot Alexander Bradley, the prosecution’s key witness.
Hernandez, who days ago blew kisses to his 4-year-old daughter in the courtroom, reacted with a nod on Friday as the jury’s decision was read, according to Boston Globe reporter Travis Andersen, who was tweeting from the courtroom. Andersen said Hernandez later cried as he hugged his attorneys, while the families of the Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, whom Hernandez had been accused of killing, hung their heads.
Suffolk (Mass.) District Attorney Daniel Conley said (via the AP) the victims’ families were devastated by the verdicts, as well as by the defense’s portrayal of the men as “gang bangers” and “drug dealers.”
“These were two hard-working, humble, Cape Verdean immigrants,” Conley said. “It was unnecessary, and it was wrong, and it shouldn’t have been done.”
Hernandez had been accused of shooting de Abreu and Furtado in Boston in July 2012, over an alleged nightclub altercation witnessed by Bradley, Hernandez’s former friend and marijuana supplier. Bradley, who is serving a five-year sentence of his own over a shooting in a Hartford bar, testified earlier this month that the altercation began after de Abreu accidentally bumped into Hernandez, causing a drink to spill on the former player. Bradley said Hernandez later ordered him to follow de Abreu out of the club and eventually onto the road, where Bradley said Hernandez, from the passenger seat, shot the men, who were in a vehicle that was stopped at a traffic light.
A subsequent falling-out between Bradley and Hernandez led the then-Patriot to become paranoid that Bradley would divulge their secret of what had happened that night. Bradley testified that in February 2013, Hernandez shot him in the face and left him to die in a Florida parking lot. Bradley survived but lost his right eye, and he vowed to make sure his former friend paid for what he had done.
The defense, however, argued Bradley made up the story and theorized that de Abreu and Furtado weren’t killed by Hernandez, but by someone else, perhaps Bradley, who could have been angered over a soured drug deal. One of Hernandez’s lawyers, Jose Baez, who gained notice for winning Casey Anthony a not-guilty verdict in the 2011 trial concerning the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter, claimed that Bradley got the “deal of a lifetime” to turn on his client.
Defense attorney Ronald Sullivan Jr. praised the jury for being able to see through the “smoke and mirrors” that made up the prosecutors’ case. He described Hernandez as a “very good young man who happened to hang out with a very bad guy in Alexander Bradley.”
“We based our decision on the evidence presented and the law,” said jury forewoman Lindsey Stringer in a statement that noted the more than 70 witnesses and 380 exhibits presented in the case.
Prosecutors had pointed to Hernandez’s tattoos as evidence, including one on his arm he allegedly got eight months after the victims died. Depicting a gun barrel loaded with five bullets and a spent shell casing, prosecutors said it represented the five bullets the shooter fired at the victims.
Hernandez’s lawyers questioned the tattoo artist, David Nelson, as well, arguing that he gave conflicting accounts about when Hernandez actually got the tattoos.
While Hernandez, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd in a separate case, was found not guilty of the most serious charges in his latest trial, the jury did convict him of unlawful possession of a gun. For that, the judge sentenced him up another “four to five years in prison,” to be served apart from his existing sentence.
Hernandez was a fourth-round pick in 2010 who played for the Patriots for three seasons and signed a five-year contract extension a month after the double murder. New England released the former tight end shortly after he was charged with the murder of Lloyd in June 2013.
Conley said that one of the victims’ relatives said of Hernandez, “At least he’s not walking out the door today.”