Former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez was found dead of an apparent suicide in his jail cell on Wednesday.
Hernandez was serving a life sentence after being found guilty of killing semiprofessional football player Odin Lloyd, 27, whom Hernandez knew socially, in 2013.
Last week, Hernandez was acquitted in a separate murder case stemming from the death of two men in a 2012 drive-by shooting that prosecutors felt was linked to Lloyd’s death. While the acquittal did not impact the Lloyd case directly, there was some feeling among legal experts that it would potentially assist Hernandez’ chances in an appeal since it was considered part of the motive.
In the opening statements of the Oden trial, the prosecution, led by assistant district attorney Patrick Bomberg, laid out its argument — that Hernandez and two of his associates drove Lloyd to an industrial park close to Hernandez’s house and fatally shot him six times.
Through a variety of physical evidence, including video surveillance of Hernandez the morning of the murder, the state successfully argued that Hernandez “orchestrated” Lloyd’s death.
The whole situation allegedly began with a text exchange.
The screenshot above shows text messages from Hernandez (labeled as “Dis N—a”) on Lloyd’s phone. The whole conversation, permissible as a result of a search warrant against Hernandez, reads:
Hernandez (9:05 pm): “I’m coming to grab that tonight u gon b around I need dat and we could step for a little again”
Hernandez (9:34 pm): “Waddup.”
Lloyd (9:37 pm): “Aite, where.”
Hernandez (9:39 pm): “idk it don’t matter but imma hit u when I’m dat way like Las time if my phone dies imma hit u when I charge it which will be in a lil.”
Lloyd (10:00 pm): “Aite idk anything goin on”
Hernandez (10:13 pm): “I’ll figure it out ill hit u on way.”
Lloyd (12:22 am): “We still on.”
The exchange implied that Hernandez had invited Lloyd out the night of his death. Hernandez’s defense, led by Michael Fee, however, tried to spin the conversation as proof of a close friendship between the men in hopes the jury would question Hernandez’s motive for the crime.
The image above shows a Nissan Altima, rented in Hernandez’s name, outside Lloyd’s house at 2:33 a.m. on June 17, the day of Lloyd’s death. Hernandez allegedly picked Lloyd up, and the prosecution showed a series of text messages Lloyd sent to his sister indicating he was with someone referred to as “NFL” before he died.
Shortly after that, video surveillance shows Hernandez returning home, without Lloyd. Hernandez apparently lives a “two-minute drive” from the industrial park where Lloyd’s body was found.
The screenshot above, from Hernandez’s personal home-surveillance footage, showed Hernandez walking through his house, shortly after returning without Lloyd, carrying a dark shape in his hands. The prosecution wanted the jury to believe it was a gun — a Glock, even more specifically.
Although police never recovered the weapon used to shoot Lloyd, five .45-caliber shell casings were found at the scene of the crime. The investigation also found that the same firearm, with characteristics consistent with a Glock, fired all the shots, according to Bomberg. Another casing, found in the Nissan Altima that Hernandez rented, showed evidence of the former Patriot’s DNA.
More evidence linking Hernandez to the crime emerged after opening statements.
During the trial
The image above, from the trial, shows blue bubble gum stuck to the shell casing of a .45-caliber handgun, which matched several casings police bagged near Lloyd’s body, North Attleboro police detective Michael Elliott told the court.
Elliot also testified that a worker at a car-rental company told him she had thrown away several items from a Nissan Altima rented in Hernandez’s name, The Sun Chronicle reported. Police searched the trash bin and found the blue bubble gum attached to a shell casing.
Keelia Smith, the manager of the North Attleboro Enterprise, testified that she found the items and threw them away. She also told the court that Hernandez, at some point, offered her a piece of blue bubble gum, according to the Boston Herald.
Prosecutors had proof that Hernandez bought Blue Cotton Candy Bubblicious bubble gum at a gas station hours before Lloyd’s death, according to the Hartford Courant.
The trial image above shows North Attleboro Police Detective Daniel Arrighi looking into a paper bag with a towel found near Odin Lloyd’s body.
The failed defense
In criminal trials, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, meaning the jury had to find Hernandez guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Motive for the crime makes up a significant portion of that argument, and during the trial the defense tried to stir up doubt about Hernandez’s reasons for killing Lloyd.
At the time, Hernandez had a $41 million contract with the New England Patriots and was making wedding plans with his girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins.
On top of that, the defense said, Hernandez and Odin were close friends who smoked marijuana and chased women together. Lloyd, known as the “blunt master,” even rolled weed for Hernandez, Fee mentioned casually during opening statements.
“In June of 2013,” Fee said, “Aaron Hernandez was planning a future, not a murder.” The defense later shocked the jury during closing statements by acknowledging Hernandez was present when Lloyd was killed but “didn’t know what to do.”
Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Christina Sterbenz and Cork Gaines contributed to this report.