His former team is preparing for the game of their lives, but for one ex-NFL player, there is much more at stake in the coming days than a trophy and a Super Bowl ring. The murder trial of former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez began on Thursday, and already, the high-profile case is garnering considerable attention as lawyers on both sides attempted to paint two very different portraits of the same man. While Hernandez's defense attorneys have cast the one-time tight end as a loving fiancee and father of a new baby, whose only crime was being made famous by his talent, prosecutors instead described the 25-year-old as a manipulative, calculating killer, who murdered Odin L. Lloyd in June of 2013 in cold blood.
During the opening statements on Thursday, lawyers dove into what is sure to be a dramatic trial for the former football star accused of fatally shooting Lloyd, a 27-year-old semiprofessional football player, last year. According to prosecutors, the ex-Patriot drove the victim "to a secluded, isolated area in North Attleborough, a town where Odin Lloyd knew no one but the defendant and the defendant’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. There Odin Lloyd was shot six times. He was killed, and he was left in a secluded area."
Lawyers also claim that marijuana found in the vicinity of the body revealed traces of both Odin and Hernandez's DNA. Furthermore, Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Bomberg told the jury that investigators uncovered a .45-caliber shell casing in a the car Hernandez rented that also contained the football player's DNA. Even more damning for Hernandez, a footprint at the murder scene matched the shoes he is accused of having worn the day of the crime.
Prosecutors have additionally pointed to footage from surveillance cameras in Hernandez's own home depicting the athlete with a gun that closely resembles the weapon used to kill Lloyd. But defense attorneys say that it is unclear whether the videos suggest that Hernandez is holding a gun or a cell phone, and that the prosecution's claims are conjecture at best. After all, Michael Fee, Hernandez's lawyer says, the fact that the 25-year-old chose not to destroy the security footage shows that he had nothing to hide. In fact, according to Fee's version of events, Hernandez is a victim in an unfair trial that has targeted him for his fame, not his guilt. Said the attorney:
Aaron Hernandez is an innocent man. We are here because the police and the prosecutors targeted Aaron from the very beginning. As soon as they found out that Aaron Hernandez, the celebrity football player, the New England Patriot, was a friend of Odin Lloyd’s, Aaron never had a chance. It was over.
Hernandez's athletic career, once considered one of the most promising in the League, was abruptly cut short following revelations of the murder charges. Just hours after the news broke, the Patriots dropped him from his $40 million contract, and the tight end's life seems to have gone in a tailspin since. The Lloyd murder trial is only the first of two cases in which Hernandez is named as the defendant — Hernandez has also been indicted and charged in the killings of Daniel De Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, after an altercation at a nightclub. Prosecutors in the Lloyd case suggest that he may have been murdered because he knew too much about the previous crimes.
But Fee has chalked much of the prosecution's case up to poor investigation and shoddy, incomplete evidence that presented, at best, a circumstantial case. Hernandez and Lloyd could have been brothers-in-law, his lawyer noted, as the semiprofessional athlete dated the sister of Hernandez's fiancee. Rather than being bitter enemies, the two men were instead "partying pals" who often smoked marijuana together, and Hernandez had absolutely no motivation for ending Lloyd's life, much less covering it up. Said Fee, "Aaron Hernandez is not the murderer of his friend,. In June 2013, Aaron Hernandez was planning his future, not a murder.
One of the major moving pieces in the trial lies with Hernandez's fiancee, Jenkins, who prosecutors claim was heavily involved in the murder, disposing of the weapon at her paramour's request. As Fox Sports reports, "she has been indicted on a perjury charge, [and] accused of lying 29 separate times when she was questioned before the grand jury." It is unclear as of yet whether or not she will be forced to testify in the case, and what effect both her presence and the evidence may present will have on the trial.
The case, which has lain dormant for over a year, has now received newfound attention as the New England Patriots prepare to take on the Seattle Seahawks in the upcoming Super Bowl. Just three years prior, Hernandez himself was on the gridiron as the Patriots played the New York Giants in what was ultimately an unsuccessful bid for the championship. But this time around, a loss for Hernandez and his defense team would mean a lot more than a bruised ego — it could mean life in prison.
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