BOSTON (AP) — A jury on Friday cleared Aaron Hernandez of committing a double murder in 2012, handing the former University of Florida Gator and New England Patriots star his first significant legal victory since his shocking arrest for a third slaying in June 2013.
Hernandez, 27, was acquitted in Suffolk Superior Court on charges of killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a drive-by shooting in Boston’s South End in the early morning hours of July 16, 2012.
The jury also acquitted him of witness intimdation for shooting the star’s prosecution witness, Alexander Bradley, in Florida in 2013.
He was convicted on just one charge, illegal possession of a firearm that morning in 2012.
He is already serving a life sentence for the June 2013 fatal shooting of Odin Lloyd, a Dorchester man killed in an industrial park near the North Attleborough mansion Hernandez shared with Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, his fiancee and the mother of his daughter.
In the double murder case, prosecutors portrayed Hernandez as a wildly impulsive athlete who, despite his fame and limitless potential, was prone to rages over minor slights, especially at clubs he frequented.
One such incident occurred around 12:30 a.m. on the night of the killings, prosecutors said, when de Abreu bumped into Hernandez inside Cure Lounge, a Theater District nightclub, and spilled a drink on him.
Rather than apologize, prosecutors said, de Abreu, a hardworking Cape Verdean immigrant enjoying a rare night out, had the temerity to smirk at Hernandez, touching off the deadly drive-by around 2:30 a.m. at the corner of Shawmut Avenue and Herald Street
But while jurors viewed video surveillance of Hernandez entering and exiting Cure, they saw no footage that captured the spilled drink incident.
And Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office gambled heavily by relying on Bradley, a convicted felon and Hernandez’s former friend, as its star witness. Bradley is currently jailed in Connecticut for an unrelated club shooting and testified for prosecutors under an immunity deal.
Over three-plus days on the stand, Bradley told jurors he was behind the wheel of Hernandez’s Toyota 4Runner when the football star leaned across him and fired five shots into the victims’ BMW.
He described Hernandez as increasingly paranoid after the killings, barring friends from using iPhones in his presence and constantly looking over his shoulder for undercover detectives. He even thought police were tracking him from the sky by helicopter, Bradley said.
Jose Baez, a lawyer for Hernandez, attacked Bradley’s credibility during a withering cross examination.
He derided Bradley as “a killer” nicknamed Rock for his habit of “rock[ing] people to sleep.”
And the flashy litigator, who previously won an acquittal for Casey Anthony in a child murder case in Florida that garnered national headlines, insisted that Bradley shot the victims over a drug deal.
Baez hammered away at Bradley’s correspondence with Hernandez after the Florida shooting, when he threatened to sue and kill the athlete, bragged about his personal weapons arsenal and said he had “wolves” ready to assist him in committing violent acts.
The defense attorney also highlighted a text Bradley sent to his lawyer in July 2013, when he expressed concern about being charged with perjury for his grand jury testimony in a related case.
But while Hernandez remains incarcerated for the foreseeable future, there were reminders throughout the trial of his former standing as a celebrated pro athlete.
Hernandez, meanwhile, hugged his attorneys before he was led outside the courtroom, where correctional officers waited to escort him back to prison.
Hernandez’s lawyers said it was Bradley — an admitted drug dealer — who shot the men over a drug deal. The defense hammered at Bradley’s credibility, citing his immunity deal with prosecutors to testify against Hernandez, his role as the driver of the car the night of the shootings and his criminal record. Bradley is serving a five-year prison term in Connecticut for firing shots at a Hartford nightclub in 2014.
Hernandez grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, and played for the Patriots from 2010 to 2012. About six weeks after Furtado and de Abreu were killed, Hernandez signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Patriots and went on to play another season before Lloyd was killed. He was cut from the team shortly after he was arrested in Lloyd’s killed in June 2013. He was not charged in the 2012 killings until 2014.
In his first trial, jurors deliberated for 36 hours over seven days before convicting him of murder.