When Aaron Hernandez became a murderer
Aaron Hernandez spent only about 10 minutes inside the Cure Lounge that July evening in 2012 — just enough time to down two drinks. Not nearly enough time for most people to get into trouble.
But something happened in the flashy basement dance club around 12:30 a.m., something that got under Hernandez’s skin. Prosecutors later said that a patron named Daniel de Abreu inadvertently bumped Hernandez, causing a drink to spill on him. The two men had never met, but the Patriots star tight end allegedly felt disrespected.
It wasn’t really a surprise. By his own account, Hernandez often became high-strung and jumpy at clubs, convinced that people wanted to “try” him, or physically challenge him. And he had a history of taking offense at small slights: At 17, he punched a bar manager in a dispute over a $12 tab.
This time, the outcome would be far worse than a sucker punch to the head.
Two hours later, at about 2:30 a.m., Hernandez and his hometown pal Alexander Bradley pulled up in a silver SUV next to a car occupied by de Abreu and Safiro Furtado near the edge of the Theatre District. The two men, military veterans from Cape Verde, had no criminal records. They had come to Boston seeking better lives.
Witnesses testified that someone in Hernandez’s car shouted at the men, “What’s up now,’’ and screamed a racial epithet before firing five shots, killing them both.
To the public, Aaron Hernandez was a rising star — only 22 years old and weeks away from signing one of the richest football contracts ever for an NFL tight end. But July 16, 2012, marked a turning point in his life, as the chasm widened between his celebrity image and the brutal reality of his life.
Hernandez and his companion that evening — his personal assistant and drug supplier Bradley — each claimed the other fired the shots, and a jury would later find Hernandez not guilty of the crime. But, if Hernandez didn’t kill the men himself, he was at the scene of an execution, and he provided the getaway car.
Hernandez would become a haunted man. He was no longer just indulging paranoid fantasies, as he and his co-conspirator, Bradley, turned on each other. Somebody really was out to get him.
‘Right between my eyebrows’
Boston homicide detectives swiftly determined that the two dead men, de Abreu and Furtado, had been at Cure, and when the detectives reviewed surveillance footage from the club entryway, they spotted a familiar figure in the crowd: Hernandez.
“Sergeant [Marc] Sullivan, he picked him right off the bat,’’ Detective Paul MacIsaac said in an interview. “He walked in with our victims at the same time. No interaction. He went downstairs. Nine to 10 minutes later he came out and left, and that was the end of that.’’
Initially, police thought Hernandez’s presence was just a coincidence. They concentrated instead on finding the SUV involved in the attack, which had gone missing. In fact, Hernandez had the silver SUV — a loaner from a car dealer in exchange for promotional help — stashed in a cousin’s garage.
And as the victims’ families prepared to bury them side by side in a Boston cemetery, Hernandez partied on.
He was spotted within days of the murders riding jet skis with a bunch of Bristol, Conn., friends, including two ex-convicts, in the posh harbor town of Newport, R.I.
That same month of July, he reported for training camp in Foxborough. But the 2012 season would prove to be a disappointment, as Hernandez failed to live up to the grand expectations of the $41 million contract he signed two weeks before the opening game.
First, he missed six games with an ankle injury. Then, no sooner had he returned to action than he tore a shoulder labrum in a game against the Miami Dolphins. He played hurt in the final six games of the season, including the last of his career — a 28-13 loss to Baltimore in the conference championship game in January 2013.
All in all, it was a lost season, by far the worst of his three with the Patriots.
A week later, Hernandez and Bradley were partying again at Cure, as if that drive-by shooting had not happened on that summer night six months earlier. Driving away, Bradley was behind the wheel at 2:20 a.m., when they were clocked traveling 105 miles an hour on the Southeast Expressway, according to a state trooper’s report the Globe obtained.
A brief, wild chase through traffic ensued before the trooper pulled them over. The report states Bradley was wobbly drunk and Hernandez said, “Trooper, I’m Aaron Hernandez. It’s OK.’’
Once before, the ploy had worked for Hernandez. But this time it was not OK. Bradley was arrested and charged with DUI. The new year was off to a rocky start for the pair — and it was about to get much worse.
A few weeks later, in February, Hernandez and Bradley flew to Florida to party with one of his Florida Gator teammates, Deonte Thompson. But by the time Hernandez arrived in Belle Glade, Thompson’s hardscrabble hometown, his paranoia was rising.
Despite all his money and fame — not to mention a new baby and an impending marriage — Hernandez couldn’t seem to relax and enjoy any of it. The pressure was getting to him.
The party started at a nightclub in Belle Glade and lasted for days. From Belle Glade, Hernandez, Bradley, and Thompson’s buddies hit a Miami strip club named Tootsie’s, where Hernandez ran up $10,000 in charges the first night.
As they partied in the VIP section, Hernandez grew nervous about two older men who were seated across from them and rarely moved, Bradley later recalled. Hernandez was certain they were police, possibly from Boston.
Bradley recalled telling his friend that the plainclothed men were probably tracking them because of their shared secret: the double murder.
Hernandez’s anxiety spiked. Tensions between Hernandez and Bradley were escalating, too. On the second night at Tootsie’s, they bickered. Bradley said they fought about the bar bill. Then about a forgotten cellphone.
When the party ended, they drove north on Interstate 95. The wrangling stopped, and Bradley fell asleep. He later testified that he “woke up with a gun at my face, right between my eyebrows.”
As the sun rose the next morning, police found Bradley lying in a parking lot, bleeding from a bullet hole between his eyes.
Hernandez was gone. He had flown out of Florida believing he was carrying less baggage than when he arrived. He believed he had seen the last of Bradley.
Then his phone rang. The caller’s number appeared to be Bradley’s.
“Hernandez thinks he’s dead,’’ said MacIsaac, the homicide detective. “Now he’s getting a call from a ghost.’’
Bradley had survived, though he lost his right eye and needed multiple surgeries. He refused to cooperate with the police, and investigators failed to tie Hernandez to Bradley’s shooting.
Once again, the Patriots star was free to go. But now Hernandez had good reason to be afraid: Bradley wanted revenge.
‘Do what you gotta do’
For the second time in six months, Aaron Hernandez had been at the scene of gunshot violence. Yet no one in authority had a clue: not the police, the Patriots, or the NFL.
Hernandez’s agent would, however, soon know about the Bradley shooting. Brian Murphy worked to help his client calm Bradley’s fury, and stave off his threat to sue.
“U left me with one eye and a lot of head trauma,’’ Bradley texted Hernandez. “U owe for what u did.”
A texting war ensued: nearly 500 messages, rife with threats of death and extortion, over three months. The Globe obtained the texts through public records requests.
Hernandez fired back: “If u ever got me in trouble or ruin my life for suttin I didn’t do...u will pay!!!’’
“Here u go threaten again,’’ Bradley replied. “U know that dont scare me tho if u knew how [geared] up i am u wouldnt even say that.’’
Murphy was Hernandez’s trusted adviser and one of the few familiar with some of his personal troubles. Murphy, president of the Athletes First agency, had represented more then 150 NFL players; he grew up south of Boston, a big Patriots fan.
When Hernandez told Murphy that Bradley was threatening to extort or kill him, Murphy called Bradley’s attorney and tried to quietly settle the matter, Murphy told a Suffolk County grand jury in 2014, according to a transcript of the hearing the Globe uncovered.
When that failed, Murphy, a former attorney, connected Hernandez with Ropes & Gray, his old law firm. Hernandez soon had a criminal defense lawyer in Florida, though no charges were ever filed in the Bradley shooting.
Murphy knew, by that time, that Bradley had accused Hernandez of trying to murder him. He also knew that Hernandez’s life might be in danger.
But Murphy did not tell the Patriots or law enforcement until much later — until after another man had been murdered. Murphy later told the Globe in an interview that he “failed miserably’’ as Hernandez’s adviser.
Fearing for his life, Hernandez hired another Bristol friend, Ernest “Bo” Wallace, to be his bodyguard, day and night, after the Bradley shooting. That meant he was constantly accompanied by a man 18 years his senior who had been in and out of jail for a variety of offenses and had failed more than a dozen court-ordered tests for cocaine, marijuana, and the dangerous hallucinogen PCP, or angel dust.
Still, the threat posed by Bradley was never far away, especially after he warned Hernandez he had semiautomatic weapons, bulletproof vests, and a crew that ran six deep.
“Since u tried 2 end me i will end u if u dont do what u gotta do,’’ Bradley texted him. He wanted cash — lots of it — to settle his grievance out of court.
Hernandez, with his anxiety rising, then did something entirely unorthodox for an NFL player. He went to see his coach, Bill Belichick, as if he were seeking advice from a surrogate father, the authority figure he called “daddy.’’
Belichick agreed to meet him at Gillette Stadium on Feb. 18, but Hernandez failed to appear, citing an unspecified problem in California, where he was staying. Belichick then said he would make time for Hernandez if he met him at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, an annual showcase for college players before the league’s draft.
NFL players have no reason to attend the Combine. But Hernandez flew there on the weekend of Feb. 23-24 to meet privately with Belichick in the coach’s room at the Westin in downtown Indianapolis.
That visit would be perhaps one of the biggest missed opportunities for the Patriots management to intervene in Hernandez’s troubled life.
That meeting, in an upscale hotel room, was just the two of them, and there are slightly different accounts of what was said behind closed doors. But this much is clear: Hernandez was afraid and asking for help. The Spotlight Team is disclosing both accounts for the first time.
One version comes from Murphy’s sworn testimony before the Suffolk grand jury. The other is based on a report by a State Police lieutenant and a trooper of their 2013 interview with Belichick — a four-page document that the Globe obtained.
Murphy told the grand jury that Hernandez requested the meeting with Belichick because he feared someone would “try to take him out.’’
The agent testified there were “several occasions where we would be at [Gillette] stadium or we’d be at a restaurant near the stadium and he was afraid that someone was following him or that someone was going to attack him.’’
Indeed, Murphy said, Hernandez feared he would be shot on the football field.
“A lot of people, they would get a lot of credit for shooting Aaron,’’ Murphy testified. “Even though that meant they were going to jail for life, it would be worth it to them.’’
Murphy, who attended the Combine, testified that Hernandez recounted details of the meeting to him afterward. The agent stated that Hernandez requested the meeting to tell Belichick that “he and his family would be a lot safer on the other side of the country.’’
“He wanted to talk to coach Belichick about possibly being traded or released so he could go play for one of the West Coast teams,’’ Murphy testified.
He said that Hernandez told him Belichick replied, “We can’t trade you; we can’t release you for numerous reasons.’’
Murphy was not asked by the grand jury why Belichick couldn’t trade or release his client. But it might have been as simple as money. The team had guaranteed Hernandez a $12.5 million bonus only months earlier, and with six years remaining on his $41 million contract, the Patriots had a huge investment to consider.
Belichick, speaking to State Police troopers and a North Attleborough police captain who also attended the interview, offered a subtly different version of events. He asked the officers not to record the session, so the only account is the typewritten police report.
The document states that Belichick told them Hernandez “was concerned about the safety of his daughter and his girl’’ because “people might potentially harm’’ them.
Belichick said Hernandez told him he “was not concerned about his own safety because he had money.’’
“William Belichick further indicated that Aaron Hernandez expressed interest in relocating, even though he had only recently purchased his home,’’ the report states, because his North Attleborough house lacked adequate security.
Belichick told the troopers he offered to connect him with the team’s security chief, Mark Briggs, which Hernandez declined. But Hernandez did accept Belichick’s offer to help him find a new residence, preferably a more secure property.
Instead, the new place was a $1,200-a-month, two-bedroom apartment about 12 miles from Hernandez’s North Attleborough home. Kevin Anderson, the Patriots staffer who helped Hernandez find the place, later told Belichick that Hernandez was shown several properties and “rented the worst apartment with the least security,’’ according to the police report.
The apartment would become known as Hernandez’s flophouse — a place he kept secret from his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins, but not the criminals in his circle of friends from his hometown of Bristol, Conn. Belichick was asked about the place in a 2013 news conference but has never publicly disclosed his role in helping Hernandez secure it.
The coach’s low-key handling of Hernandez’s concerns — there’s no evidence he went to police or even to the Patriots’ security chief about a star player’s report that his family might be in danger — seemed not to match what a Patriots executive later said he expected the coach would have done in such a situation. After Hernandez was charged with murder, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft rejected a magazine report that Belichick had advised Hernandez “to lay low, rent a safe house for a while.’’
“If a player had told Bill that his life was in danger, Bill would say, ‘We’re calling Mark Briggs, we’re calling the authorities,’ ” Kraft said on WBZ-FM before a preseason game on Aug. 29, 2013. “His response wouldn’t be, ‘We’re going to get a safe house and you’re going to lie low.’ I know Bill. That’s not what he would say.’’
The Spotlight Team notified the Patriots of its findings and invited comments from Kraft, Belichick, Tom Brady, and others associated with the team. Their only response related to the police interview with Belichick.
“Coach Belichick wanted to make it very clear that he stands by what he told police investigators, 100%,’’ Stacey James, the team’s vice president of media relations, said by e-mail.
The many questions that went unanswered included: Why didn’t Belichick report Hernandez’s safety concerns to law enforcement when Hernandez shared them in February 2013?
Belichick told police that Hernandez eventually told him that “he no longer had safety concerns.” But that conversation came in May, more than two months after Belichick learned that Hernandez feared for his fiancee and child’s lives.
The episode raises additional questions: Had the Patriots promptly alerted law enforcement, might investigators have uncovered not only Bradley’s death threats against Hernandez but the reason for them — that Hernandez had allegedly tried to kill him? Might that disclosure have helped police solve the double murder in Boston before anyone else was killed?
After the meeting in Indianapolis, Hernandez returned to California. He had hoped to work out with Brady during the offseason, but the shoulder he had injured required surgery. So he went to Brady’s Los Angeles surgeon for the operation in late March, renting a townhouse in nearby Hermosa Beach where he could recuperate.
Jenkins and their new baby went west, too, and early on the night before the procedure Hernandez received a text from Brady: “Good luck! I hope everything goes well . . . love you my brother and hope to see you soon.’’
But the night went badly, underscoring Hernandez’s worsening mental state. Near dusk, Hernandez was arguing with Jenkins when he put his fist through a window at the townhouse. Jenkins frantically called 911.
Hermosa Beach police Officer Todd Lewitt, the first to respond, said in an interview that Hernandez was intoxicated and bleeding heavily but declined medical assistance.
Six days after the shoulder procedure, Lewitt was called again to the same address for a domestic disturbance. Again, he said, Hernandez was drunk. Officers determined, as they did in the first call, that Jenkins and the baby were not in danger and took no further action.
In hindsight, Lewitt said, he wished that police had searched the townhouse for contraband. Hernandez’s friends later testified they had seen drugs and a gun in the residence. If Hernandez had been charged with illegal gun possession, it might have prompted the Patriots or the NFL to take action.
Hernandez’s brother, Jonathan, also saw a gun there. In his forthcoming book, “The Truth about Aaron,’’ he describes discovering his brother sitting alone on the townhouse roof holding a handgun.
Jonathan Hernandez said in an interview that Aaron was rubbing the barrel of the gun on his chin, his face looking empty and defeated. Aaron barely acknowledged his brother, but eventually reassured him that he was fine.
“It’s just so sad because it was an opportunity, a missed one, for me to potentially get him to open up and express himself and share some of the things that were bothering him,’’ Jonathan Hernandez said.
Aaron Hernandez wasn’t about to open up to others about his mounting troubles.
On April 4, more than a week after Hernandez’s operation, Belichick texted him: “Just checking in. Sounds like the surgery went well. Hope you are doing ok!! Let me know how things are going. Best, BB.’’
Hernandez replied, referring to his trainer: “Surgery went well and I’m doing fine and have been with Alex [Guerrero] and will continue to be with Alex until it’s time to be back for OTAs! [Organized team activities.] Hope everything has been well on ur end. Can’t wait.’’
In fact, Hernandez was not doing fine. He was gearing up for war with Bradley.
In early April, Hernandez sent $15,000 to a Belle Glade buddy, Oscar Hernandez (no relation), for a used Toyota with two .22-caliber handguns and two rifles inside, according to court records.
“Everything goin smooth?’’ Aaron texted him.
“Hell yeah I almost got everything,’’ Oscar replied.
But guns were not enough for Hernandez. He soon spent $110,000 on a 2013 Chevrolet Suburban that had been outfitted as an armored car, a war wagon.
Amid the Bradley drama, Hernandez was facing more issues at home. By mid-May, Jenkins was caring for their infant daughter, managing their house, and running out of patience.
She texted Hernandez, “I’m so annoyed with you — like all this [expletive] I have to do and you have no idea about how I’m feeling today . . . These are the times where you’re nothing but selfish.’’
Less than a week later, she was preparing to look at wedding dresses when she complained that she was learning through mutual friends about his past relationships.
“U have too much baggage . . . I’m serious — skeletons are starting to come out,’’ she texted.
Ninety minutes later, she texted again: “We need to confirm our wedding date — if it’s still happening.’’
Hernandez had proposed to her months earlier. Now, he was waffling about a date. So Jenkins chose one: April 11, 2015.
“Sounds good,’’ Hernandez replied.
When that date finally arrived, he would be standing trial for murder.
As the Patriots looked ahead to their training camp in 2013, there was hope in the air — hope even in Hernandez’s crumbling life.
“This is the year for you,’’ Jenkins texted him during team workouts in May. “I can feel it.’’
“I just hope I stay healthy,’’ he replied.
“You have to think positive. An injury free year.’’
“Hope so,’’ Hernandez texted. “And a great year for us.’’
First, he had an honor to accept. The national Pop Warner football program chose to pay tribute to the Patriots star at its All-American Scholastic Banquet in Boston. The organization’s Inspiration to Youth Award would go to Aaron Hernandez.
It was an odd choice. Texts and e-mails between Hernandez and his agent’s staff indicate he was less than inspired by it all: by the need to attend the banquet and deliver a speech. He was especially angry about his mode of transportation to the event.
He had asked Murphy’s agency to have a car pick him up at his Franklin apartment. En route, Hernandez, that inspiration to youth, texted Murphy’s assistant, “Next time I will not ride in a car service wit no tints.’’
For one thing, Bradley and his crew might see him through untinted glass. And Bradley was out there: On May 29, Bradley texted Hernandez, “I hate that it has come to this but u can’t go thru life consequence free when u do certain [expletive].’’
A showdown appeared to be looming. On June 3, Bradley texted Hernandez that he would be near Gillette Stadium when the Patriots ended practice. He said he was armed with a semiautomatic handgun and was “vested up.’’
Hernandez texted Wallace, his bodyguard, to pick him up at the stadium, then replied to Bradley, “Jus kno I’m up here and I’m NOT HIDIN.’’
Bradley and Hernandez fired 125 texts back and forth between 8:24 a.m. and 3:55 p.m. that day. They exchanged insults, accusations of betrayal, threats.
The jousting ended without an encounter. But Bradley had warned Hernandez a week earlier that he would go public by suing him if he didn’t pay up.
On June 4, the morning after their long day of threats, Bradley indicated in a text to Hernandez that he had demanded $5 million from him, that Hernandez had countered at $1.5 million, and that Bradley said he would accept $2.5 million.
Hernandez did not respond. Instead, Wallace drove him to Boston to meet with his agent Murphy at the law firm Ropes & Gray. The text war was over, but Bradley remained unsatisfied.
He filed a federal suit against Hernandez in Florida on June 13, only to withdraw it four days later before the news media caught wind of it.
Murphy texted Hernandez: “They are voluntarily withdrawing lawsuit so we can engage in settlement talks without this getting to the media. Huge win for us.’’
By then, Hernandez had other problems. His commitment to football seemed to be waning. He reported late for practice the morning after his daylong texting beef with Bradley, and Belichick was losing patience.
The Patriots coach “was like Wtf is wrong with you Florida boys,’’ Hernandez texted Brandon Spikes, his former Florida and Patriots teammates. “He was hot.’’
“They told me they was trying to let me go but they r gonna give me one more year to straighten out lol,’’ Hernandez wrote. “But I ain’t trippin.’’
He was increasingly spending time with Wallace and another Bristol friend, Carlos Ortiz, whom he had known as a kid. Ortiz, like Wallace, was an ex-convict living at the home of Hernandez’s cousin, Tanya Singleton. And Ortiz, like Wallace, had failed multiple tests for cocaine, marijuana, and PCP, including tests reported as recently as June 12, 2013, five days before Hernandez committed an unspeakable act of violence that would prove his undoing.
Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old semipro football player for the Boston Bandits, had grown closer to Hernandez in recent weeks. He was dating Shayanna Jenkins’s sister, Shaneah, and Hernandez found that the two men had more in common: They both liked smoking marijuana, playing video games, and nightclubbing.
Around 1 a.m. on June 15, 2013, Lloyd bought Hernandez a drink at a club named Rumor in Boston’s Theatre District. Witnesses described it as an ordinary evening, but prosecutors say something Lloyd did or said made Hernandez angry — exactly what has never been proven.
Two days later, Hernandez tweeted, “Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there.’’ He went to dinner that night with Jenkins at a Providence cafe, where patrons saw him smoking marijuana outside. The bar manager said Hernandez’s tab for himself, Jenkins, and two other couples included 11 cognacs, 10 Sex on the Beach cocktails, seven beers, and two vodkas.
“We were both intoxicated,’’ Jenkins later testified.
She also testified that Hernandez used her phone multiple times at the cafe to text Wallace in Bristol. In one message, Hernandez wrote, “Please make it back cuz I’m definitely trying to step for a little.”
Hernandez then texted Lloyd, arranging to meet that night. A minute later, he messaged Wallace again: “Get your ass up here.’’
At 2:33 a.m., the three men — Hernandez, Wallace and Ortiz — picked up Lloyd at his Dorchester home. Lloyd seemed to sense trouble.
“Did you see who I am with?’’ he texted his sister at 3:07 a.m.
Lloyd tried again at 3:11 a.m.: “Hello?’’
She responded: “Who?’’
“Nfl,’’ he texted at 3:22 a.m.
A minute later, he wrote, “Just so you know’’ — his last known words.
Lloyd was shot six times and left to die in the industrial park near Hernandez’s North Attleborough home.
The next morning, State Police delivered the news to his mother, Ursula Ward.
“I was on the floor rolling and screaming,’’ she recalled in a June interview. “I got up and said, ‘Wait a minute. How do you know that was my son?’ And he says, ‘Ma’am, he had his wallet on him. His driver’s license was in his wallet.’ . . . Don’t ask me what happened after that because I couldn’t remember anything else.’’
Hernandez had left a trail of evidence in Lloyd’s murder. Soon, police were posted outside his house, and he called Murphy for advice.
“I assumed it had something to do with the Bradley case,’’ Murphy recalled. “I told Aaron, ‘Walk out to the policeman and ask him why he’s there.’ ’’
Hernandez complied and said, “They just asked me questions about my other friend, Odin Lloyd.’’
He told Murphy there was nothing to worry about.
The next day, Belichick summoned Hernandez to his office. The coach later told the police he asked Hernandez “point-blank’’ if he was involved in the murder and Hernandez replied, “Absolutely not.’’
Belichick said the conversation lasted less than five minutes. He never spoke to Hernandez again.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft also wanted answers. When Hernandez met him that day at the stadium, he hugged and kissed the billionaire owner and assured him he was innocent.
The police suspected otherwise, and eight days later Globe sportswriter Greg Bedard was posted outside Hernandez’s house on his last day of freedom.
“Must have been five or six or seven cop cars drove in,’’ Bedard recalled. “Not too long after that is when Aaron came out in cuffs and the white T-shirt. That’s when you realized that this was not going to probably end well for Aaron Hernandez.’’
For his brother Jonathan the scene was “the worst thing imaginable . . . like seeing your brother die over and over again.’’
The Patriots released Hernandez almost immediately, costing him the balance of his $41 million contract. Kraft told the media that he and the Patriots organization had been “duped’’ by their prized tight end.
Belichick was more circumspect. He read a seven-minute statement, scarcely mentioning Hernandez’s name.
“As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation,’’ Belichick said. “Overall, I’m proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this program, but I’m personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this.”
Hernandez’s teammate Dane Fletcher was present when Belichick separately addressed the team. Fletcher quoted the head coach as saying the episode was “not going to be spoken of.’’
“He is not part of this team,’’ Fletcher recalled Belichick saying. “He will not be spoken about in this locker room.”
The coach said the team would instead focus on winning another championship.
It was the Patriot Way.