Jury hears opening statements in murder trial of NFL’s Aaron Hernandez
(CNN) — A marijuana blunt. DNA traces on a spent shell casing. A footprint at an industrial park. These pieces of evidence as well as cellphone text messages and surveillance video will help build the state’s case in the long-anticipated Massachusetts murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, a prosecutor told a jury during opening statements Thursday.
Hernandez not only orchestrated, but also participated and covered up the killing of his former friend Odin Lloyd, prosecutor Patrick Bomberg said.
For the defense, the one-time NFL star worth $40 million was targeted by police and prosecutors in the murder of the semipro football player because of celebrity status.
Hernandez “never had a chance” as authorities zeroed in on him right away, defense lawyer Michael Fee told the jury.
The sensational trial, which comes nearly three years after the standout tight end helped lead his team to Super Bowl XLVI, resumes Friday with the victim’s mother and girlfriend expected to testify.
Hernandez, 25, pleaded not guilty in the 2013 killing of Lloyd, 27, who dated the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée.
Two alleged accomplices, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, have pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.
An unexplained issue with a juror delayed the opening before vastly divergent portraits of Hernandez were presented to the jury.
Bomberg summed up the prosecution’s largely circumstantial case, telling the jury that saying Hernandez and his associates killed Lloyd and then “took evidence with them and tried to and, in some cases were successful, in destroying evidence.”
The three picked up Lloyd and drove to a secluded area where the victim was shot six times, Bomberg said. But they allegedly left evidence at the scene and other places. The industrial park is in North Attleboro, about a mile from Hernandez’s home.
“The commonwealth will prove to you that he committed … the crime of murder,” the prosecutor said.
A marijuana blunt found near Lloyd’s body had traces of both his DNA and that of Hernandez, Bomberg said. Hernandez’s DNA also was found on a .45-caliber shell casing found in a car he had rented.
A footprint at the industrial park where Odin Lloyd’s body was dumped matched sneakers worn by Hernandez, the prosecutor said.
Though the motive for the killing is unclear, Bomberg said Lloyd and Hernandez were at a nightclub days before and the defendant appeared annoyed. Hernandez appeared angry when he left the club.
As Bomberg described the crime, some of Lloyd’s relatives could be seen weeping in court.
Ursula Ward, Lloyd’s mother, walked out at one point.
‘Dazzle and distract’
Fee sought to plant doubt in the minds of jurors, telling them that police and prosecutors targeted Hernandez from the start.
“As soon as they found out Aaron Hernandez — a celebrity football player for the New England Patriots — was a friend of Odin Lloyd’s, it was over,” he said.
The prosecution will try to “dazzle and distract you” with the fruits of an investigation that was “sloppy and unprofessional,” Fee said.
The case against his client is “just a story and it’s not true,” the defense lawyer said.
Fee said Hernandez had no motive to kill Lloyd. He described the victim as one of his client’s “partying pals” who was known as the “blunt master” for the marijuana cigars often provided for Hernandez.
But Lloyd was also dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée Shayanna Jenkins, Fee said. The two men could have been brother-in-laws.
“Aaron Hernandez is not the murderer of his friend,” Fee said. “In June 2013, Aaron Hernandez was planning his future, not a murder.”
One of the first witnesses called by the prosecution was high school student Matthew Kent, who found Lloyd’s body. He testified that he was jogging home from a gym when he saw Lloyd’s body. He called out to see if the man was okay.
“I got no response,” Kent said. “I was concerned.”
Shayanna Jenkins entered the courtroom earlier and sat on the left side of the first row. Next to her were the defendant’s older brother, DJ Hernandez, and his mother, Terri Hernandez.
Ward arrived with five people and sat on the opposite side of the front row. Shaneah Jenkins, the sister of Shayanna, sat with Ward.
Hernandez was expressionless when he entered the courtroom.
The case has taken on renewed attention because the Patriots are playing the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s Super Bowl and because owner Bob Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick are on the prosecution’s witness list.
Days after Lloyd’s slaying on June 17, 2013, Hernandez went to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and had conversations with Kraft and Belichick about Lloyd’s death, according to a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation.
Both meetings were face to face, and Kraft later told investigators that Hernandez said he had nothing to do with Lloyd’s death, the source told CNN.
According to Belichick, the same was true, and the head coach told authorities he spoke with Hernandez about his whereabouts the night of Lloyd’s death, the source added. The day Hernandez was arrested, Belichick told reporters at a press conference he was shocked.
Since Hernandez was arrested and charged in Lloyd’s death, the prosecution’s case has changed significantly, seemingly in Hernandez’s favor, as the judge has barred prosecutors from using certain evidence, legal analysts said.
For example, Judge Susan Garsh barred a text message from Lloyd to his sister sent minutes before he was killed. The message stated that he was with “Nfl,” adding, “just so u know.”
The judge ruled the message wasn’t enough proof that Lloyd thought he was going to die.
The defense argued the messages are innocuous, suggesting Lloyd could have been bragging about being with Hernandez.
The judge has also blocked any mention that Hernandez has been indicted in connection with two other killings in Boston. Hernandez pleaded not guilty in the shooting deaths of Ernesto Abreu and Safiro Furtado outside a bar in Boston in 2012. A trial date hasn’t been set.
Prosecutors will argue Lloyd’s killing was a “joint venture.” Under Massachusetts state law, prosecutors don’t necessarily have to prove who pulled the trigger. Under joint venture, anyone who actively participates in a murder can be held guilty, according to legal experts.
Lloyd’s last day
On June 16, 2013, Lloyd was riding with friends in a black Chevrolet Suburban, which police later learned was rented by Hernandez.
Close friend Daryl Hodge was with Lloyd when he said Lloyd got a text from Hernandez, asking to hang out later that night.
As they parted ways, Lloyd told Hodge he’d see him later.
Lloyd’s body was found the next day.