Closing Arguments Wrap as Hernandez Case Heads to Jury

     FALL RIVER, Mass. (CN) – The jury in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial began its deliberations after closing statements ended with the defense claiming Hernandez’s friends are the perpetrators, while the prosecution painted Hernandez as a controlling, irritable psychopath.
     “He was a 23-year-old kid who had witnessed something: a shocking killing, committed by someone he knew. He really didn’t know what to do,” Hernandez’s attorney said.
     Prosecutors told the jury to keep the focus on the star and his domineering personality.
     “Ask yourself who’s in control,” the prosecutor said.
     The defense called three witnesses and rested its case in a single day on Monday.
     Meanwhile, the prosecution took nine weeks and presented 131 witnesses to support their claim that the 25-year-old former New England Patriots tight end is a murderer.
     Hernandez pleaded not guilty for the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, who was shot six times at an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez’s North Attleborough home. The men knew each other through their girlfriends, who are sisters.
     “Our client, Aaron Hernandez, thanks you,” attorney James Sultan told the jurors speaking to all the “incredible attention” they’d given and the sacrifices they’d made over the past nine weeks. He called awareness to the man, the celebrity, accused of murder and spent the rest of his time with the jury highlighting the holes in the prosecution’s argument, starting with a lack of motive.
     “Obviously, they were friends,” Sultan said of Hernandez and Lloyd. “They were future brothers-in-law.”
     Referring to his notes frequently, Sultan reminded the jurors of the sloppy police work surrounding the investigation.
     “They fixated on Aaron, right from the start, and that’s where this investigation went wrong,” he said.
     The lawyer then held up a photo of a shell casing attached to a wad of chewed blue bubble gum, which police found in a dumpster at the Enterprise Rent-A-Car location where Hernandez dropped off the car Lloyd was last seen getting into. He called the casing “the centerpiece of their forensic case.”
     “This picture tells you everything you need to know about the investigation,” he continued, pages of notes rustling in his left hand, as he detailed how police decided to separate the gum from the shell and then sent the shell off to a DNA expert without disclosing its original state – which would have rendered both items tainted.
     “They snookered the DNA expert, just like they tried to snooker you,” Sultan continued, noting that prosecutors never tested the bubble gum for DNA.
     “That’s not science. It’s scary. And it’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” the attorney said.
     Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, sat with her arms crossed as she listened to Sultan say that the “diabolic plan hatched, orchestrated and carried out” by Hernandez to kill Lloyd – which prosecutors used as the foundation for their case – simply did not exist.
     “They have a theory. They have a story. They haven’t proven it,” Sultan said.
     He addressed the mysterious box that Hernandez had his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, smuggle out of the house and make disappear, the box that prosecutors said held the murder weapon.
     “Evidence points in a very different direction,” Sultan said. “Hernandez smokes a lot of marijuana, all the time. So, there you go. Shayanna testified that the box smelled of marijuana.”
     The attorney acknowledged the box could have contained the weapon that killed Lloyd.
     “Anything is possible. But a murder charge, a murder conviction can’t be based on speculation. That’s not good enough,” he said.
     Sultan then suggested an entirely new story behind Hernandez role in Lloyd’s death, dumping responsibility on to Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, two friends of Hernandez who were with him and Lloyd the night of the murder.
     “He was a 23-year-old kid who had witness something: a shocking killing, committed by someone he knew,” Sultan said, speaking of Hernandez. “He really didn’t know what to do.”
     He added: “After nine weeks, the prosecution still hasn’t proven to you who shot Odin Lloyd or why. Where’s the proof? Where’s the proof? It isn’t there. They want you to fill in all the gaps. They want you to guess. They want you to use your imagination. That’s not the American system of justice. There has to be proof, proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
     He wrapped up by bombarding the jury with a list of reasons why Hernandez can’t be found guilty.
     “Please keep in mind what isn’t enough to convict Aaron of murder,” the lawyer said. “Even if you find him present, that’s not enough. Even if you find he associated with the perpetrators, that’s not enough. Even if you find that he knew it going to happen, that’s not enough. Even if you find he didn’t do anything to stop it, that’s not enough. Even if you find he may have been involved, that’s not enough. Even if you find he was probably involved, that’s not enough. Even if you find there’s a strong likelihood that he was involved, that’s not enough. It’s hard to convict someone of murder.”
     He continued, still referencing his notes frequently: “Ladies and gentleman, this is a terrible case. It’s about the death, the tragic death, the violent murder, of a young man, Odin Lloyd, and about another young man, an innocent man, charged with that murder. Don’t compound that tragedy by convicting an innocent man. Don’t make a mistake. Your decision is final. I ask you, I implore you, based on the evidence and based on the lack of evidence to find Aaron Hernandez not guilty for the murder of Odin Lloyd.”
     After a five-minute recess, prosecutor William McCauley stood before the jury with no notes, relaxed and confident.
     “There’s one way you’ll get to where you need to go if you follow the evidence,” McCauley said. “Look for the corroboration in the other evidence whether it’s video, whether it’s phones records, whether it’s witnesses’ testimony, photographs. Look for corroboration at every step of the way.”
     The prosecutor began by describing the Friday night before Lloyd’s death, at Rumor nightclub. He referred to testimony that Hernandez felt “disrespected” and “aggressive” when Lloyd left the football star at the club to talk to other friends.
     McCauley then reminded the jury of footage they watched of Hernandez and Lloyd walking to the car later, in which Hernandez started out steps ahead of Lloyd, then threw up his hands and mumbled something before he picked up his pace and eventually walked blocks ahead of Lloyd.
     A valet testified to seeing Hernandez putting a gun in his waistband after he reached his car.
     The prosecutor frequently pointed to Hernandez with an outstretched arm and made eye contact with him whenever mentioning him. He also noted that the fateful evening was the first time Hernandez and Lloyd – allegedly friends – went out together without the sisters.
     “The first occasion that these friends are going out winds up with this behavior from the defendant in the club, leaving Odin Lloyd, going down and arming himself with a gun,” McCauley said. “No motive? What causes someone to go and arm themselves?”
     McCauley also discussed a text message Hernandez sent the next morning about having taken Lloyd to his clandestine apartment, referred to as “the spot,” after the club along with a babysitter who declined Hernandez’s advances.
     “Obviously that’s suggesting he has some concern about that,” the prosecutor said. “Odin Lloyd now knows more than he knew. He now knows about the marijuana. He now knows about the spot. He now knows about the babysitter. Could that be of concern to somebody?”
     He also reminded the jury that this was when Hernandez’s frequent communications with Wallace and Ortiz began.
     “The plan is in play,” he said.
     Going to a club with Lloyd was not part of that plan, since Hernandez picked Lloyd up at 2:33 a.m., McCauley added. Instead, the group ended up at an industrial park, which the prosecutor called an “ideal place to commit a murder.”
     “What was the purpose in driving to that spot at that time?” he added, and then detailed Lloyd’s six-bullet death, shot by shot.
     The first shot happened in the car, hitting Lloyd in the torso. A pursuit took flight outside the car, where Hernandez’s footprints were found, McCauley said.
     The next shot hit Lloyd’s forearm and the third went through his collarbone. Hernandez took the fourth shot as Lloyd began to fall forward; it entered the back of his neck and traveled down his spine, disabling him, the prosecutor recounted.
     Hernandez took the last two shot as Lloyd laid face-up on the ground. One went through his heart, and Lloyd was found with left hand covering that entry wound.
     The final shot landed to the right of his heart. No blood exited through that wound, McCauley said, recalling a doctor’s testimony, as the prior shot stopped Lloyd’s heart and his blood flowed into his chest cavity.
     Ward, Lloyd’s mother, bowed her head and closed her eyes. No tears were visible, but her chest trembled trembling. Hernandez swallowed visibly and licked his lips as McCauley recounted the murder.
     The prosecutor then played footage of Hernandez removing items from his car the next day, noting that he left his baby with Ortiz, a man who the defense had just claimed could be a murderer.
     McCauley said Hernandez lied when he dropped off his rental car later and claimed he did not know why the car was missing a side mirror.
     “We know that’s not true,” McCauley said.
     “The prosecutor does not know what the truth is,” Judge Susan Garsh interrupted, then pressed her lips together firmly looked sternly at McCauley while Hernandez’s mother gnawed on a cuticle.
     McCauley next brought attention to the elusive murder weapon.
     “The gun was there,” he said of the weapon several people testified to seeing in the Hernandez home. “It’s not now. Where did it go?”
     McCauley said after the homicide, Hernandez walked around the house with the gun “like it was a trophy of some sort.”
     He also reamed Jenkins, Hernandez’s fiancée, for her role and vague testimony by recalling that she ran around in the middle of the night to get Wallace and Ortiz money and left her grieving sister at her home while she dumped a box she claimed she never looked into and has no memory of where she took it.
     “Ask yourself,” McCauley said. “Who’s in control? Who’s in control of Ernest Wallace? Who’s in control of Carlos Ortiz? Who’s in control of Shayanna Jenkins?”
     McCauley closed by saying, “I’m asking you to look at the evidence. The evidence tells the story of what happened. Circumstantial evidence? Yes. There were no eyewitnesses. There is other evidence, strong evidence that should convince you beyond a reasonable doubt he committed that crime.”
     After the jury hands down its verdict, Hernandez faces a separate, unrelated trial on two counts of first-degree murder for the July 2012 killings of two men in Boston’s South End.

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