Metro

At his most recent trial, Aaron Hernandez rarely appeared down

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez smiled at his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez.
Keith Bedford /Globe staff
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez smiled at his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez.

He was imprisoned for life for one murder and standing trial in Suffolk Superior Court for two more slayings, yet he seemed to begin each day smiling.

Aaron Hernandez bounded into Courtroom 906 every morning with a grin, ready and willing to help his attorneys prepare for the day’s witnesses.

Linda Kenney Baden and Michelle Medina, the two lawyers he greeted first, got hugs and kisses. Hernandez would then hug Ronald Sullivan, Jose Baez, and George Leontire before sitting down to scan a legal filing, whisper about strategy, or — more often than not — share a laugh with the team.

Advertisement

“My man!” Sullivan said to him on one occasion when they embraced.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

At all times, the former New England Patriots star looked engaged and even thrilled to be outside Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, the maximum-security prison where he was being held.

He seemed to have a rapport with the corrections officers who drove him to and from the prison, smiling in their direction during breaks in the courtroom action.

Rarely did he look despondent. One exception came on the first afternoon of deliberations, when jurors put a question to Judge Jeffrey Locke that suggested they might be leaning toward a conviction.

Hernandez wore a sullen expression as he conferred with his lawyers and scanned the jury box, but he reverted back to his sunny demeanor 90 minutes later, when court adjourned for the day without a verdict.

Advertisement

At trial, Hernandez was particularly attentive on days when he felt he could provide his lawyers with valuable input.

On the morning of March 15, he arrived in court anticipating testimony from David Nelson, an artist who etched a revolver tattoo and the phrase “God Forgives” on his right arm in the spring of 2013, which prosecutors had alleged was a murder confession.

Hernandez was all business at the defense table, hopping from chair to chair and organizing paperwork. He also motioned to his chest while he spoke in hushed tones to his lawyers.

When he did struggle to compose himself, it was usually to keep from laughing. During one hearing shortly before opening statements, Hernandez guffawed as he sat next to Leontire, elbowing the lawyer and butting his head against his shoulder, as the detectives who built the double murder case against him looked on with contempt.

He had another belly laugh as the trial drew to a close, prompting one reporter in the press gallery to remark, “He’s convulsing, he’s laughing so hard.”

Advertisement

Hernandez’s family did not maintain a regular presence in court, but he was pleased to see them when they did attend.

One afternoon he blew a kiss to his older brother, DJ, during the sibling’s only appearance in the spectator’s gallery. The elder Hernandez returned the gesture, though his face remained expressionless, a marked contrast to Aaron Hernandez’s broad grin.

The notorious defendant looked even happier on the afternoon of April 12, when his longtime fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, brought their 4-year-old daughter to court.

It was the first time since his arrest that Hernandez had seen the girl, with whom he shared a birthday, outside the walls of a prison. His eyes lit up. He waved, blew kisses, and turned to look back at her after taking his seat.

To make eye contact with the girl, Hernandez looked past two rows of family members of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, the men he was ultimately cleared of killing in a July 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston’s South End.

Throughout the trial, the victims’ relatives remained invisible to the former football star, who never locked eyes with them or acknowledged their presence.

Hernandez did, however, glare at the star prosecution witness, Alexander Bradley, during Bradley’s three-plus days on the stand. The admitted drug dealer, currently jailed in Connecticut for an unrelated shooting, calmly told jurors that Hernandez shot de Abreu and Furtado and later shot him in the eye in Florida.

Hernandez, Bradley said, was plagued by nightmares after the killings and lived in constant fear of his horrific secret being revealed.

Hernandez appeared angry, even fidgety at the defense table as he listened to the account from Bradley, which jurors ultimately did not accept.

But he also looked like a defendant determined to fight back, speaking with his lawyers throughout Bradley’s testimony and motioning toward him, apparently providing information that he hoped his attorneys could use on cross-examination.

Even when prosecutors had their best days in court, Hernandez did not look like a man defeated or even burdened by the prospect of having two life sentences tacked on to the life term he was already serving.

However, a crack in Hernandez’s veneer of invulnerability came last Friday, as he listened to a jury pronounce him not guilty of the 2012 slayings. He nodded. He swayed. His eyes welled up with tears and he turned toward Jenkins-Hernandez, telling her, “I love you.”

The tears were the first public expression of sadness, or perhaps regret, that the once-promising athlete had shown since he was arrested in 2013, squandering a brilliant career and leaving a trail of wrecked lives in his wake.

A relative of the victims was unmoved, shouting that Hernandez had gotten away with murder.

Five days later, he was found hanging in his cell.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen
@globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.