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Family members of victims hear wrenching testimony at Hernandez trial

Ernesto Abreu (center), father of victim Daniel de Abreu, and Maria Teixeira (right, in red), mother of victim Safiro Furtado, listened to the courtroom translation through earphones.
Ernesto Abreu (center), father of victim Daniel de Abreu, and Maria Teixeira (right, in red), mother of victim Safiro Furtado, listened to the courtroom translation through earphones.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

They come every day.

For the past two weeks, about 10 relatives of the men Aaron Hernandez is accused of killing have filled two rows of courtroom 906 in Suffolk Superior Court to hear often wrenching testimony about their loved ones’ final moments. And the man accused of shooting their loved ones to death sits just feet away, sometimes grinning during breaks.

Ernesto Abreu, the father of Daniel de Abreu, sat with his head bowed when witnesses described his son’s gaping chest wound after being shot, and how he struggled to breathe before he died.

Maria Teixeira, the mother of Safiro Furtado, was overcome when witnesses described the shot to the head that killed her son instantly. Grief-stricken, she watched jurors pass around graphic crime-scene photos and listened to the graphic testimony against the former New England Patriots star tight end.

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Furtado’s sister, Safira Furtado, told jurors through an interpreter that her brother didn’t even feel like going out on the night of July 15, 2012, the night that Hernandez allegedly shot the men.

“It was his friend who kept insisting,” she testified, her voice trembling. Eventually Furtado acquiesced, she said, and he and de Abreu joined three other men to go clubbing in the Theater District.

The fall of Hernandez, convicted in 2015 of another slaying, was well documented before his double murder trial began on March 1.

But little has been known about the victims, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Relatives have stayed largely out of the headlines since the deaths of the men from Cape Verde, who family members said spent most nights cleaning offices. Some of the relatives who take in the trial each day are facing the glare of news cameras and a curious public for the first time. The family members, mainly Dorchester residents, huddle with a victim witness advocate during breaks in the trial.

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William Kennedy, a lawyer for the families of both victims, said in an e-mail that relatives of the slain men “have with difficulty maintained the vigilance in the courtroom. . . . Their grief in learning firsthand the manner in which these two young men were gunned down is extremely painful.”

Prosecutors say Furtado and de Abreu had a brief encounter with Hernandez inside Cure Lounge that proved fatal.

A drink was spilled. Words were exchanged. A bouncer noticed men near Hernandez but moved on when everything seemed OK. Two hours later, the athlete allegedly sprayed the victims’ BMW with gunfire at a stoplight. The two friends sitting up front were killed. Three men in the back seat escaped with their lives.

On the first day of Hernandez’s trial, Safira Furtado testified that a relative initially concealed the truth, telling her hours after the killings that her brother had been in a car accident. “She did not have the courage to tell me,” Safira said from the witness stand.

Neusa Abreu, de Abreu’s sister, told jurors that she was also desperate for answers when her brother didn’t come home. She called his cellphone “more than 10 times,” and her bewilderment turned to despair when a state trooper contacted her and relayed the news.

“I blacked out,” she said.

Some of the testimony has cast the victims in a positive light. A cousin smiled when surveillance video was shown of de Abreu hugging a woman outside Cure Lounge roughly 20 minutes before he was shot.

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The woman, Paige Aiello, testified that de Abreu came to her aid inside the club, shielding her and a friend from men who were bothering them.

“He talked to us and danced with us,” Aiello said. “We talked for a few minutes and said goodbye and I didn’t see him the rest of the night.”

Lawyers for Hernandez have aggressively pushed a counter-narrative, telling jurors that the notion that he killed two men over a spilled drink is ludicrous.

The real shooter, they say, is Alexander Bradley, Hernandez’s former friend and marijuana supplier who is now jailed in Connecticut on an unrelated gun offense. The motive for the South End shooting is a failed drug deal, a theory that defense attorney Ronald Sullivan advanced even when cross examining the victims’ sisters.

First, he offered condolences to Neusa Abreu and Safira Furtado on the witness stand. Then he asked about their siblings’ possible ties to drug activity.

Was Neusa Abreu aware of a dispute between Daniel and a Connecticut drug dealer?

“That doesn’t sound like my brother,” she answered, moments after saying that he had served in the Cape Verdean military and national police force.

Did the medical examiner tell Safira Furtado that her brother had drugs in his system when he was killed?

“No,” she answered.

Did she learn that Safiro had argued with anyone else that night besides Hernandez?

“He did not argue with anyone,” she insisted.

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A police official told the Globe the day after the killings that the victims had ties to a Cape Verdean gang, a statement that authorities quickly recanted. But the specter of gang involvement has loomed over the trial.

With the jury out of the courtroom, defense lawyers have argued that they are entitled to ask another man who was in the BMW that night about his hand gestures in photos that have surfaced online. The defense claims that the man is flashing gang signs in the pictures.

Prosecutor Patrick Haggan told the judge that early media reports about gang ties were inaccurate. And from the victims’ family section of the courtroom, often a scene of quiet grief, came a spark of defiance.

“That’s right,” one woman shouted.

Boston police Detective Joshua Cummings, who stared grimly at Hernandez when he attended several days of jury selection, sparred with defense attorney Jose Baez when Baez suggested that Furtado may have sold drugs in Cape Verde, and that a gang member may have targeted two other men in the BMW.

But the detective testified that he looked into those rumors, which were discounted by a fellow officer and a search of gang databases.

“What I found was nothing,” Cummings said. “I looked into these young men, and the answer was no.”

Through their lawyer, the families have described the victims as “outstanding sons, brothers, and friends. . . people that were willing to help someone in need, maybe help with a chore or task, or to share a laugh or story.”

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Hernandez is already serving a life sentence for killing Odin Lloyd in 2013. An appeal of his conviction will eventually be heard, but right now he doesn’t look worried.

Seated in front of de Abreu and Furtado’s relatives, Hernandez chuckles and grins during breaks. He occasionally checks the clock in the back of the courtroom, or scans the crowd for his fiancee.

Whenever he turns to face the spectators, the Abreus and Furtados are just a few feet behind him.

None of them say a word. None of them look away.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.