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Jurors ‘shocked’ by defense tactic in Hernandez trial

Relieved jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial speak
The relieved jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial said they were shocked that the defense said Hernandez was present at murder.

FALL RIVER — After 10 weeks of testimony, more than 130 witnesses, and hundreds of pieces of evidence, the jurors in the trial of Aaron Hernandez on Wednesday revealed that one of the key factors that helped them convict the former NFL star of murder came in an admission made during the defense team’s closing argument.

“We were all shocked,” one juror said of the defense’s acknowledgment that Hernandez was in the North Attleborough industrial yard at the same time that Lloyd, 27, was shot to death.

The jurors, in an unusual press conference after the verdict Wednesday, said the admission helped corroborate the other evidence against Hernandez.

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Prosecutors had steadily worked to build a circumstantial case, with no murder weapon or clear motive to bolster the first-degree-murder charge against the 25-year-old.

But during final statements, just before jurors began deliberations, the defense admitted that Hernandez was present at the crime scene — a strategy that legal specialists said could cut either way. If the defense lawyers were willing to acknowledge there was enough evidence to put Hernandez at the scene, the jurors might be open to the alternative theory that someone else had committed the murder.

However, it was a gamble that did not pay off, said Martin Healy, the Massachusetts Bar Association’s chief legal counsel.

“It looks like it was more damaging than helpful to the defendant,” Healy said Wednesday. “I think what happened here is there were a number of circumstantial events that led the jury to their conclusions,” he said. “It wasn’t one single factor that they were able to hang their verdict on.”

It took about 35 hours of deliberations over seven days for the jury to reach a verdict, but the seven women and five men said they felt confident they made the right decision.

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Their confidence only grew when Judge E. Susan Garsh informed the jury that Hernandez also faces murder charges in the 2012 shooting of two men in Boston. Garsh, who met privately with the jurors after the verdict, also told them about allegations that Hernandez shot his one-time friend, Alexander Bradley, in the face. Bradley testified during the trial, but was not allowed to mention the shooting. The jurors were kept unaware of the other allegations, which were not allowed as evidence during the trial, until Garsh told them.

“I think we can all stand here and say we made the right decision,” said jury forewoman Malessa Strachan.

All 12 jurors and three alternates gathered in the jury room in the Fall River Justice Center to discuss the case. It is rare for a jury to appear as a group after a verdict; the judge had told them the news media would be less likely to track them down at home for a comment on the high-profile case if they spoke at the courthouse.

None would discuss the deliberations, and most were reluctant to reveal what had motivated their decision.

But they said they were not swayed by the defense argument that it was Hernandez’s former friends and alleged coconspirators, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, who killed Lloyd in a drug-fueled rage. Defense attorneys said Ortiz and Wallace, who were also charged with murder but will be tried separately, were PCP users.

Jurors said surveillance footage taken at the athlete’s North Attleborough home that showed him relaxing with Ortiz and Wallace in the hours after the murder made them skeptical of the defense theory.

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One juror said a “mind-blowing” moment came when the jury learned that the serial number of a .22-caliber firearm found not far from where Lloyd was killed matched the number on a .22 purchased for Hernandez in Florida.

Juror Jon Carlson, a district manager from Attleboro, said he was influenced by Patriots owner Robert Kraft's testimony that in the days following Lloyd’s killing, Hernandez told him he hoped the time of the murder would be released to the public because it would show he was innocent. Kraft testified that Hernandez told him he was at a nightclub at the time.

“We still don’t know the exact time of Odin’s murder specifically, so I don’t know how Aaron would have that information two years ago,” Carlson said.

Still, the jurors could not unanimously decide that Hernandez acted with premeditation when he killed Lloyd. They did agree that he acted with extreme atrocity and cruelty, one of the legal standards required for a jury to convict a defendant of first-degree murder.

“The shots, there were six of them,” said juror Rosalie Oliver of Rehoboth. “That’s extreme.”

During the trial, jurors hid their emotions, even when grisly crime photos were shown and grief-stricken witnesses, including Lloyd’s girlfriend and mother, took the stand. But they said on Wednesday there were moments when they wanted to cry.

“You’re told be unemotional,” said Jennifer Rogers, a dental hygienist from New Bedford. “To sit there and hold back tears is hard.”

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They had to deal with other emotions during the trial. They stifled laughter during awkward moments of defense cross-examination of police witnesses. They said they felt sorry for Kraft, who was obviously fighting a cold when he took the stand. The jurors also revealed that they had to fight boredom during some of the more plodding parts of the trial, specifically the hours of testimony by cellphone experts discussing texts between Hernandez and Lloyd.

“We definitely experienced information overload,” said one juror, Anthony Ferry.

“But it was important information,” said Kelly Dorsey, a Taunton resident. “Every bit of it. Whatever we got was important information and we used it to make a decision.”

On Wednesday morning, jurors who had been stoic for so long finally showed emotions in public. They laughed while joking about going to a bar after the verdict. One said the experience was so stressful she hoped she would never be seated on a jury again.

Sean Traverse, an assistant store manager from Norton, fought back tears as he described how the experience changed him.

“It makes you appreciate how quickly life can end,” he said, his voice growing hoarse. “How fleeting it can be.”


Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMCramer.