After a delay due to last-minute jury issues, Aaron Hernandez’s murder trial finally got underway on Thursday morning in Fall River, Massachusetts.
The former New England Patriots tight end was arrested in June 2013, for allegedly killing 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancé, Shayanna Jenkins, at the time of the murder.
Prosecutors say Hernandez, 25, and two other men, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, picked up Lloyd in a rented Nissan Altima at his home just after 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 2013 and drove him to a secluded industrial park in North Attleborough, where he was shot six times. It remains unclear who pulled the trigger, but prosecutors say that Hernandez orchestrated the killing.
‘Unhappy with the Victim’
When the three men left the industrial park where the shooting took place, “they left evidence at the scene, they took evidence with them, they created evidence of their cooperative efforts,” Assistant District Attorney Roger L. Michel, Jr. said in his opening remarks Thursday. They tried to destroy evidence and in some cases they were successful, Michel added.
The movement of the three men was largely captured on cameras throughout the evening of June 16 and the early hours of June 17. Michel presented surveillance footage to the court while he described the men’s activity.
Michel also described how Hernandez sent texts to his Ortiz and Wallace, rounding them up the day before the murder.
Hernandez reportedly became “unhappy with the victim” after an incident on June 15 when he allegedly told Lloyd about other killings that occurred in 2012, according to the prosecutor.
Hernandez appeared emotionless as he listened to the prosecutor’s opening statement, but relatives of the slain Lloyd were overwhelmed with tears as Michel described the moment the 27-year-old’s body was discovered. One was escorted out when it became too much.
‘Mere Presence Isn’t Enough’
Meanwhile, in his opening remarks, defense attorney Charles Rankin discredited the investigation, calling it “sloppy.”
“We are here because the police and the prosecutors targeted Aaron from the very beginning,” Rankin said. “Aaron never had a chance. It was over.”
He asked the jury to keep an open mind, saying Hernandez had plenty of opportunities to conceal evidence, but did not.
The defense painted Hernandez as a do-gooder who came from a tough upbringing in Bristol, Connecticut. Hernandez escaped Bristol to become an NFL star, but many of his friends did not.
As such, Rankin said Hernandez was “generous with his friends.” He took them on trips, paid for rental cars, and opened his house up. Lloyd was of those friends.
“You ladies and gentlemen will have to decide whether the friendly Aaron Hernandez is the same Aaron Hernandez that is the subject of the story you just heard,” Rankin said.
Finally he acknowledged that prosecutors have plenty of video from the night in question, but “there is no video of what happened.”
“Evidence that Aaron was at the scene isn’t enough,” Rankin said. “Mere presence isn’t enough.”
A High-Profile Case
According to court documents obtained by the Associated Press, Ortiz told police that “Lloyd had been ‘chilling’ with people Hernandez had problems with.”
Ortiz went on to say that Hernandez confronted Lloyd over the issue during the drive on the night of June 17, 2013, but the two men shook hands and seemed to come to terms.
However, then Hernandez stopped the car at the industrial park, where everyone but Ortiz got out to urinate, according to his account. He heard gunshots before Hernandez and Wallace got back in the car and drove away without Lloyd. Ortiz told authorities that Wallace later told him Hernandez shot Lloyd.
All three men have been charged with murder and all three have pleaded not guilty. They will be tried separately.
Hernandez’s fiancé has also been charged as an accessory to murder.
During the investigation into Lloyd’s killing, police uncovered evidence linking Hernandez to a double homicide in 2012. He faces murder charges in those deaths as well.