FALL RIVER — Aaron Hernandez was a cocky NFL star who believed he could get away with murder and pulled the trigger on a man he thought disrespected him, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday in a closing argument that capped nine weeks of testimony and more than 400 exhibits.
Pointing at Hernandez, Bristol Assistant District Attorney William McCauley told jurors the former tight end for the New England Patriots not only orchestrated the slaying of Odin L. Lloyd on June 17, 2013, but shot him with a Glock .45.
It was the first time the prosecution fingered Hernandez as the shooter. Two other men, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, have also been charged with Lloyd’s murder, but prosecutors said it was Hernandez who summoned them to Massachusetts and drove Lloyd to his death in an industrial yard in North Attleborough.
“Who was in control?” McCauley said. “He’s in control. . . . He believed he could kill Odin Lloyd and that no one would ever believe he was involved.”
The closing arguments threw into sharp relief the circumstantial nature of a case with no clear motive and no eyewitnesses to the killing of 27-year-old Lloyd, a semiprofessional football player and landscaper who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee.
Defense lawyer James Sultan asked jurors to consider that Lloyd’s killing was a spontaneous act, committed by either Wallace or Ortiz, while Hernandez was merely a frightened witness who failed to call the police.
“Did he make all the right decisions? Did he make all the right choices?” Sultan said. “He was a 23-year-old kid, who witnessed something, a shocking killing, committed by somebody he knew. He really didn’t know what to do.”
The jury of seven women and five men began deliberating late Tuesday afternoon. Deliberations are expected to last several days with jurors poring through the testimony of 132 witnesses and more than 430 exhibits. A unanimous verdict of first-degree murder would send Hernandez, who once earned millions in endorsements as an NFL star, to prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole. A second-degree murder conviction would result in a life sentence with a chance at parole after 15 years.
McCauley described Hernandez as a secretive, thin-skinned man who became especially angry with Lloyd two days before the killing when the two men went out to a Boston nightclub. Witnesses testified that Hernandez glared at Lloyd, who had left him to talk to other people he knew at the club.
“I take you into a club and you’re not grateful enough to be hanging out with me?” McCauley said, pretending to voice Hernandez’s thoughts.
But Sultan told jurors that Hernandez had no reason to risk a lucrative football career to kill someone simply because he failed to pay him deference.
“If there was evidence of any reason that Aaron had to murder Odin Lloyd, don’t you think you would have heard about it in nine weeks?” Sultan asked the jury. “You didn’t hear about it. You didn’t hear about it because it doesn’t exist.”
Hernandez, who wore a charcoal gray suit, watched the lawyers’ closings, his face expressionless, as his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, and his mother sat directly behind him. During breaks, he mouthed “I love you” to Jenkins and joked with his uncle. Jenkins had been called by the prosecution to testify.
Jurors, who are set to continue deliberating Wednesday, must find that prosecutors proved Hernandez pulled the trigger himself or wanted Lloyd dead and helped someone else kill him in order to find Hernandez guilty.
“You must find that [Hernandez] intentionally participated in some fashion and that he had or shared the intent” to kill, Judge E. Susan Garsh explained to jurors before they began deliberating. “It is not enough to show the defendant was simply present or that he knew about [the crime] in advance.”
During the trial, prosecutors did not present any evidence that showed Hernandez pulled the trigger. During his closing, McCauley gave a complex description of how Hernandez could have shot Lloyd — an assertion that was not mentioned during testimony. It is unclear what effect McCauley’s suggestion will have on deliberations because jurors cannot consider statements made during closings as evidence.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors relied heavily on surveillance footage retrieved from Hernandez’s North Attleborough mansion, texts between Hernandez and Lloyd, and evidence that put Hernandez at the crime scene on Corliss Landing, including a marijuana blunt with his DNA on it. During the trial, the defense aggressively cross-examined police and forensic analysts for the prosecution, trying to show that the case was handled sloppily and that prosecutors failed to test any evidence that could undermine their theory that Hernandez was responsible.
During his closing, Sultan reminded jurors of gaffes made by detectives, who climbed into a dumpster to search for evidence instead of waiting for crime scene investigators.
“They would do whatever it took, whatever it took, to accomplish their goal” of prosecuting Hernandez, Sultan told the jury.
“That’s not science. It’s scary, and it’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Sultan showed the jury surveillance footage of Hernandez as he returned to his home with Wallace and Ortiz minutes after Lloyd’s death. He pointed out that in his hand, Hernandez held an iPad, not a gun.
Hernandez is seen with the gun minutes later, when he comes out of the basement, where Wallace and Ortiz were hanging out. Sultan suggested that Hernandez had the gun because he was scared of Wallace and Ortiz, who often took PCP, a drug that a defense witness testified can cause sudden, violent outbursts.
“Did he arm himself to protect himself after he saw what happened at Corliss Landing?” Sultan asked the jury. “Did he take away the weapon so that no one else could get hurt?”
Either was possible, he suggested.
McCauley scoffed at that theory, pointing out that later on June 17, Hernandez lounged poolside with Ortiz and Wallace. He reminded jurors that surveillance footage showed Hernandez letting Ortiz and Wallace hold his infant daughter.
“If he thought for one minute that that child could have been in danger by handing her to these two crazies, you think he would have done that?” McCauley email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer. Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.