Now that a Bristol County jury has convicted Aaron Hernandez of murdering Odin Lloyd, lawyers for Lloyd’s mother are moving forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against the former NFL star, a civil action they will use to compel Hernandez to take the stand.
Hernandez, 25, who last week was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, did not testify during his criminal trial because in those cases, a defendant has no legal obligation to testify.
But in a wrongful death case — a civil proceeding in which the plaintiff seeks financial compensation for the loss of a loved one — the person being sued cannot invoke their constitutional right against self-incrimination, said Douglas Sheff, the lawyer for Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward.
“When we do call him, Ursula Ward will be by our side to look him in the eye once he goes under oath and tells his story,” Sheff said, speaking to reporters in a conference room at his law office in downtown Boston. Ward sat nearby as her attorney spoke.
Ward filed the lawsuit in December 2013, about six months after Hernandez was arrested in Lloyd’s killing. But a Bristol Superior Court judge said that the civil case could not continue until the criminal case was resolved.
Ward’s lawyers said they plan to petition the court in the next few weeks to allow them to begin deposing any witnesses who would know about Hernandez’s finances. Sheff declined to say who those people might be.
But he said he wants to know who handled Hernandez’s money and where it might be now.
“I’m not confident he has money,” Sheff said of Hernandez. “But he sure has received a lot over his career and we’re curious about where it may be.”
At the time of his arrest, Hernandez was a millionaire. He had received a $40 million contract extension from the New England Patriots and had income from endorsements. After his arrest, he was dropped by the Patriots and lost the endorsements.
For his criminal trial, Hernandez paid three veteran defense lawyers to represent him.
Someone paying for his own defense in Massachusetts could spend anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 per lawyer, said Martin Healy, chief counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association.
“This must have been an extraordinarily expensive case,” said Liza Lunt, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “Three of Boston’s best trial lawyers devoted a colossal number of hours during many months of pre-trial preparation and a lengthy trial. Additionally, the costs of experts and investigators would have been very significant.”
Hernandez, who was transferred this week to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum security facility in Shirley, still faces a trial in a separate murder case, the 2012 killing of two Boston men. He has pleaded not guilty; a date has not been set for that trial.
The families of those two men are suing Hernandez and so is Alexander Bradley, a former friend who has accused the former football star of shooting him in the face.
Sheff said Ward’s case has “never been about money” and no amount would be sufficient to compensate the family for their loss.
But Sheff also said that if Hernandez is owed any money by the Patriots, that money should go to the family. The NFL Players Association has filed a labor grievance on Hernandez’s behalf contending that the Patriots owe him more than $3.25 million. There is also a freeze on Hernandez’s $1.26 million house in North Attleborough, because of the pending suits.
If Ward’s lawsuit is successful, her lawyers could go after any other pieces of real estate, bank accounts, retirements accounts, and even trust funds owned by Hernandez, if it is clear they were set up to shield Hernandez’s fortune from creditors, said Brian Bixby, a trust and estates lawyer in Boston.
“Another thing to look for is any assets that headed off shore,” Bixby said. “Those are the hardest to collect. Another country or financial institution in the world may not pay any attention to an order from the [Bristol] Superior Court.”