Former New England Patriots star tight end Aaron Hernandez has been found guilty of the murder of amateur football player Odin Lloyd, after a more than 10 week trial, and 36 hours of jury deliberation. Hernandez will face a lifetime behind bars, with no possibility of parole for the 2013 slaying of Lloyd.
Aaron Hernandez will spend the rest of his life behind bars after being unanimously found guilty of the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd by a Connecticut jury. Hernandez, who had signed a $40 million contract with the New England Patriots shortly before the killing, was found guilty of first degree murder—which carries a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole—by way of “extreme atrocity and cruelty”.
The conclusion of the trial is just the first in a long series of legal troubles for the star. He will now face additional murder charges when he goes on trial for a 2012 double homicide, as well as numerous civil charges—both related to Lloyd’s killing, as well as other weapons based charges, including a 2013 incident where Hernandez is accused of shooting a former friend, Alexander Bradley in the face.
Over the past 11 weeks, jurors heard testimony from more than 130 witnesses, as the prosecution sought to build a strong case based mainly on circumstantial evidence, while the defence tried to debunk the case as flawed and lacking any proof.
Though the evidence against Hernandez seemed strong, it was mostly circumstantial. Some experts felt that a conviction was not automatic, given the lack of key pieces of physical evidence, including the murder weapon, and the way that certain pieces of physical evidence which did exist—like the bullet casings—were handled and tied to Hernandez, in addition to the lack of a clear, non-speculative motive.
However, though the jury took nearly a week to come to their conclusion, seemingly, the debate was more to do with whether the murder was premeditated, or the slightly lesser charge of an act of “extreme atrocity and cruelty”. As nothing less than a unanimous decision would be considered, and in light of the seriousness of the charges, the deliberations were understandably extensive, but speaking after the trial, the jury were united in their decision, and the sense that justice had been done.
Although the jury has not spoken at length about how they came to their decision, or which parts of the trial were most compelling to them, several hinted that the defence’s admission that Hernandez was at the scene of the crime when it happened was significant.
This high risk strategy, which didn’t come out until their closing arguments late in the trial, tried to paint Hernandez as merely being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when his friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz—who will be tried separately at a later trial—high on drugs, decided to murder Lloyd, unprovoked.
They attempted to play off Hernandez’ actions in the days that followed, as those of a scared young man, who had witnessed something horrifying. And given the lack of physical evidence it could have worked.
However, the jury seemed to believe that this narrative just didn’t hold water, since they were shown CCTV evidence of Hernandez, Wallace and Ortiz casually interacting in the hours after the slaying. Hernandez, who in several frames of video even appeared to be handling the murder weapon, simply did not look like a scared young man, and given the defences admission that he was present, left the jury with little doubt that he was involved in the crime—and given that Wallace and Ortiz had no direct links to Lloyd but through Hernandez—was undoubtedly the ring leader.
The later revelations about the case—including the other murder and civil charges—which were banned from inclusion in the trial, only strengthened the jury’s conviction that they had done the right thing.
Although no dates have been set for the other trials, the double-murder trial could start as soon as this August, meaning Hernandez will stay in the public eye for some time to come. He is accused of the 2012 murder of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu, after the to reportedly “disrespected” the then star tight end, by bumping into him at a nightclub and causing him to spill his drink. According to prosecutors, Hernandez ambushed the two while stopped at a red-light, shooting into their car and killing both men, and injuring a third.
Some have speculated that Odin Lloyd was killed because he knew too much about this earlier murder, and the 2013 shooting of Alexander Bradley, who claims he was shot by Hernandez after an altercation in a strip club. The incident left Bradley without his right eye. Criminal charges were not filed at the time, because Bradley refused to name Hernandez as the assailant, but a civil suit was filed soon thereafter.
Fans and players took to twitter soon after the announcement with a range of reactions. Some—especially those who knew him—expressed shock and disbelief, but overall there was a strong sense that, unlike similar high-profile murder trials—such as that another NFL star of O.J. Simpson—whose shadow still looms large over the league and the criminal justice system, justice had been done. Even among those who knew him well, there was a grudging acceptance that the evidence pointed to his guilt, even if it didn’t tally with the man they thought they knew.
For the NFL, this allows them to move on from what has been a tough couple of years, from a public relations point of view, but for the NFLPA, the NFL players official union, they are left in the uncomfortable position of having to defend a convicted murderer.
Prior to the trial, the NFLPA filed a grievance with the New England Patriots for Hernandez’s unpaid salary. They claim his 2013 and 2014 base salaries ($1.3 and $1.1 million respectively) workout bonus ($500,000) and the final instalment of his signing bonus ($3.25 million) were all fully guaranteed, and therefore—they argue—still need to be paid.
While the grievance has been on hold throughout the trial, should the league choose to listen to the grievance—and not doing so could be presented as bad faith on their part, during future negotiations with the union—the NFLPA will be put in the uncomfortable position of having to defend a convicted murderer. However, in doing so, they can fall back on the argument that they are attempting to do so on behalf of Lloyds family, and the other victims, whose civil cases are yet to be heard.
Without this money, it is unlikely that Hernandez will ever be able to fully settle the civil suits which have been brought against him. He will begin his sentence at MCI Cedar Junction, where inmates make license plates for 50¢ (around 30p) per hour.
Cedar Junction is a maximum security prison in Walpole, Massachusetts, just over 1.5 miles away from Gillette stadium where the Patriots play their home games. Nearby residents suggest that, on game day, you can hear the cheers from the stadium from that distance, which will serve as a constant reminder of the life he threw away.