Was there ever enough evidence to try Aaron Hernandez for more than the one murder he’s already convicted of?
In a verdict that few predicted, a Suffolk County jury pronounced the former New England Patriot not guilty Friday of a double murder in Boston’s South End in 2012, while convicting him of one lesser charge. Of course the former New England Patriot is still serving life in prison without parole for killing Odin Lloyd in 2013.
Some had considered Hernandez a virtual one-man crime wave in light of his previous murder conviction and subsequent indictment for two others. Will that verdict in the court of public opinion now have to be revisited?
“It’s my view that the Commonwealth was seduced by his celebrity,” said defense attorney Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., part of the team that represented Hernandez in his latest trial. “Instead of doing the hard work of uncovering evidence, they went for the celebrity conviction. In the second trial, the jury held him to the standard that all citizens should be held to.”
It’s not surprising that the winning side would lavish praise on the jury. But in the wake of the trial, there seems to be widespread agreement that the case against Hernandez was weak. It came down to the word of one very wobbly star witness, Alexander Bradley, whose self-serving and inconsistent testimony wasn’t nearly enough to win a murder conviction.
It isn’t unusual for murder prosecutions to hang on the testimony of unsavory characters. But Bradley — who is doing time in Connecticut in another shooting — was nearly the only witness of consequence, and he was clearly not up to the task. His descriptions of pivotal events, such as the discarding of the murder weapon, were contradicted by other evidence. He claimed to have witnessed the club dust-up that precipitated the shooting, but there was no corroboration of that, either in the form of video or other witnesses. Oh, and he texted his lawyer that he was concerned about being charged with perjury if he testified truthfully in a related case.
Some star witness.
The prosecution isn’t necessarily to blame for losing the case; they don’t collect the evidence. And the fact is that there had never even been suspects in the double murder until Hernandez was charged with killing Lloyd. They had a tough case they couldn’t prove.
Legal analysts have not faulted the prosecution so much as they have credited a smart and vigorous defense with shredding the testimony of Bradley and other key witnesses and creating reasonable doubt. The prosecution, they say, did the best it could with a case that was problematic from the start.
The good news is that Hernandez will continue to serve a life sentence without parole for Lloyd’s cold-blooded killing. However, that verdict is under appeal. It’s unlikely, but his acquittal Friday creates the possibility, however remote, that Hernandez could eventually walk free if his appeal succeeds. That’s unsettling.
Even given the recent acquittal, the Hernandez saga is one with little precedent. This is a man who played in the Super Bowl and stood on the cusp of true stardom and insane riches. But in the end, he couldn’t outrun his own insanity.
I can only assume that the jury got it right on Friday, and Hernandez is not guilty. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that someone shot two people to death in 2012, and as of now that killer has not been brought to justice. That, in itself, is a tragedy.
During the trial, pictures of Hernandez in the courtroom captured a man who didn’t seem to have a care in the world — a murder defendant blowing kisses to his family, waving to his friends, a study in confidence. Perhaps he suspected what we’ve all learned, which is that no jury would convict anyone on the word of Alexander Bradley.
But Hernandez remains a convicted killer. That didn’t change with this verdict, and isn’t likely to.Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.