Aaron Hernandez walked into a California tattoo shop in the spring of 2013 and allegedly asked a tattoo artist to add three new symbols onto his heavily inked physique. Two were pictures of handguns, and a third said, “God forgives” — written backward so it could be read in a mirror.
Together, prosecutors say, those new tattoos tell a story that links the former New England Patriots star to the fatal shootings of two men in Boston’s South End in 2012 and then, in 2013, to the shooting of a one-time friend alleged to have seen him commit the murders.
Both of the guns portrayed in the tattoos match those used in the shootings, Suffolk First Assistant District Attorney Patrick M. Haggan said in Suffolk Superior Court Tuesday, arguing that the body art “is in fact an admission by Mr. Hernandez.”
But at the pretrial hearing, Hernandez’s defense attorneys pushed back adamantly, describing the account of the tattoos as “rank speculation” that, if shared with jurors, could violate the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
“That people get tattoos with a gun on them does not mean that the Commonwealth is allowed to file inference on top of inference on top of inference and get to the point that this is an admission,” attorney Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. said.
Hernandez is set for trial Feb. 13 on allegations that he murdered Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in the South End on July 16, 2012, while Alexander Bradley allegedly sat next to him in an SUV.
Hernandez is also accused of shooting Bradley in Florida on Feb. 13, 2013, in an attempt to silence him.RELATED: Take a closer look at Aaron Hernandez’s tattoos
The prosecutor, Haggan, said that after Bradley was shot, Hernandez sought out a tattoo artist in Hermosa Beach, Calif., in late March or early April in 2013.
One new tattoo showed a revolver loaded with five bullets, which allegedly represents the five shots fired at the scene where de Abreu and Furtado were slain, Haggan said.
Authorities allege Hernandez used a .38-caliber revolver to murder the two men.
The tattoo artist also drew a semi-automatic handgun and a spent shell casing and a puff of smoke, Haggan said. The image, the prosecutor said, matches what happened to Bradley, who was shot once by a semiautomatic handgun.
Florida authorities recovered a single spent shell casing at that scene.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke, who is scheduled to preside at Hernandez’s trial, did not issue a ruling on the defense team’s motion to block the tattoo evidence.
Hernandez is serving a life sentence without parole for murdering Odin L. Lloyd in a North Attleborough industrial park in 2013.
Since his arrest for the Lloyd homicide, Hernandez’s tattoos have sparked the interest of law enforcement, and the case has reflected some of the broader issues courts have faced around the country as they seek to properly evaluate whether tattoos can be used as evidence, and how juries respond to them.
The Bristol County sheriff’s department at one point studied Hernadez’s tattoos for evidence of gang affiliation. None was found.
In May 2014, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office issued a public appeal for any person responsible for inking Hernandez to contact authorities. Conley’s office did not detail the reason for making the request, but did set a time frame — between February 2012 and June 2013.
Prosecutors said at the time that the tattoos in question were on Hernandez’s right arm. In court documents, defense attorneys said the picture of the revolver was on the inside of that arm — though prosecutors did not say whether the tattoo had prompted their inquiry.
After Hernandez’s conviction in Lloyd’s murder, the former athlete’s tatoos drew media attention when he appeared in court with the word LIFETIME embedded in a star on his neck. No explanation has been offered for the meaning of that tattoo.
Earlier Tuesday, Hernandez’s lawyers had urged Locke to block prosecutors from using as evidence text messages between Bradley and Hernandez. Locke took that request under advisement.
Brian Murphy, Hernandez’s sports agent, testified that he believed the text messages were protected by lawyer-client privilege, even though Murphy, a Harvard Law School graduate, was not working as an attorney in 2013 when the exchange took place. Prosecutors had obtained another 2013 exchange with Murphy that helped them locate the phone that contained the messages from Bradley.
Hernandez received a text on June 11, 2013, from Bradley with a civil complaint attached, laying out allegations that Hernandez shot Bradley in the eye.
Bradley also told Hernandez in a separate text, “So i’ll watch as it hits tv have fun explaining that to coach n the the [sic] pats franchise . . . but u made this choice on your own being stupid,” according to a document filed recently in Suffolk Superior Court.Andy Rosen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.