Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (27) has been found not guilty of the 2012 shooting of two men in Boston which resulted in a double murder. The shocking verdict was handed down on April 14th in the Suffolk County Criminal Court.
Hernandez has long traded in his NFL issued Patriots sweats for an orange jumpsuit, or a suit and tie (depending upon whether its a court day). Instead of studying game film, Hernandez peers at a screen displaying evidence presented against him. His new reality is a far cry from his once promising career, with a $40 million dollar contract. Today, he is a convicted murderer, who is currently serving life in jail without the possibility of parole for the slaying of his onetime friend Odin Lloyd in 2013 (the case is currently on appeal). Furthermore, shortly after the jury read the “guilty” verdict in early 2015, Hernandez had to prepare for the aforementioned trial for the murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Both victims were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a nightclub in Boston’s South End in 2012 stemming from an altercation inside the nightclub. However, today (March 14th) Hernandez received the best news he has had in years. Flanked by his high-powered Attorney Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., the athlete openly wept as the jury foreman announced that he had been found not guilty of the double homicide.
Hernandez was indicted in 2014 on two charges of first-degree murder, three charges of armed assault with intent to murder and one count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. During the trial, Alexander Bradley, Hernandez’s former friend, and drug dealer was the key witness against his former associate. According to Bradley, de Abreu bumped into Hernandez while dancing at Cure Lounge, a popular club in Boston. The contact caused a drink to spill on Hernandez. Bradley stated his friend felt disrespected by de Abreu’s reaction to the accident. Apparently, de Abreu laughed and smirked before moving on without apologizing.
Sensing Hernandez’s rage, Bradley said he suggested they leave the club in order to “smoke and talk”. Ultimately, the two got into Hernandez’s SUV and attempted to leave when they spotted de Abreu and four of his friends getting into a BMW. At Hernandez’s instruction, Bradley was allegedly told to roll down the SUV’s windows and run a red light so they could pull up next to them. Bradley then stated Hernandez yelled a racial slur at the BMW and shot into the car five times. The shots killed de Abreu and Furtado and injured the other two surviving passengers according to Bradley’s explosive and seemingly damning testimony.
Bradley received immunity in order to testify (Bradley is currently in prison for charges related to a separate club shooting). Furthermore, Hernandez is also charged with witness intimidation for allegedly shooting Bradley in the face and leaving him for dead in 2013. In a news release, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office alleged at the time that Hernandez did so after the witness “made a remark about the homicides.” Bradley lost his right eye in the shooting. Things seemingly got worse for Hernandez when Aquilino Freire and Raychides Sanches, the other two of the individuals who were in the car with de Abreu and Furtado, testified against him. When asked to describe the shooter in December of 2016, Sanches said he looked like Hernandez. Freire, who said he was shot twice during the night in question, told the court that the shooter was light-skinned with no beard but tattoos.
However, the state’s case seemed to fall apart based on the credibility of their key witness, Bradley. The defendant’s lawyer Jose Baez (of Casey Anthony trial fame) claimed that Bradley was the actual murderer as early as the opening statements to the jury. Baez said Bradley was the one who shot them over a botched drug deal. Bradley acknowledged he sold drugs for around 17 years. Baez used this admission to hammer Bradley’s trustworthiness and reliability. Baez labeled Bradley’s testimony “fantastic lies”. Furthermore, Hernandez’s legal team attempted to show the jury that Bradley was attempting to frame and extort the football star. According to CNN, the jury saw at least 500 text messages between Bradley and Hernandez during the trial. For example, Bradley sent messages to him saying “I never thought ud be da one to shoot me” and reportedly asked Hernandez to pay him to keep his mouth shut. In response, Hernandez said, “I love u and ur not gonna frame me for some bread.”
Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez (although they were never formally married she legally took Hernandez’s name in 2013), also took the witness stand during his trial. While she also testified under immunity, she stood by her fiancee when she was questioned. Prosecutors claimed Jenkins-Hernandez was aware of the murder. However, she testified otherwise. She stated that she never asked Hernandez questions, not when she found out Bradley had been shot or when his car went missing following the deaths of de Abreu and Furtado. Apparently, the jury found her testimony credible.
After a months-long trial, and one day short of the two-year anniversary of Hernandez’s conviction in the Odin Lloyd case, the verdict came down. The former tight-end was found not guilty on 7 charges against him, including two of murder and three of armed assault. However, Hernandez was found guilty of unlawful gun possession. He was sentenced to 4-5 years in state prison, which will run concurrently with his current life sentence.
The star player assembled an all-star line-up in order to defend him in the now concluded case. Lead counsel was the aforementioned Jose Baez. Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., an accomplished attorney, Harvard professor and a leading theorist in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, and race theory, also represented him. Attorney George J. Leontire, a local celebrity Boston attorney, known for his aggressive style was on the team. The attorneys used several effective legal tactics including a combative litigation style, thorough research and dismissal of unreliable ballistic evidence which would have tied Hernandez to the murder weapon.
In contrast, the families of the slain victims were devastated after the conclusion of the trial. However, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley told CNN he and the families took solace knowing that he would not be “walking out the door” because of his prior conviction. “If those appeals are exhausted, he will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars, so that does give the families — and, frankly, our office — some consolation,” he said.