Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of murder in the first degree for the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd. The conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole — the harshest penalty given in Massachusetts, a state without capital punishment. This is just the first of two murder trials Hernandez will face in 2015; later this year, the high-profile athlete will stand trial for the fatal nightclub shooting of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado.
While the unanimous guilty verdict was read on Wednesday, the usually stoic Hernandez collapsed into his chair. His mother reportedly could be heard sobbing in the courtroom.
The former tight end, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2010, was arrested on June 26, 2013, in connection with Lloyd's murder. The body of the semi-professional football player was found in an industrial park close to Hernandez's home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Lloyd, who was perceived as a friend of Hernandez as he was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée, was found with multiple gunshot wounds in his chest, having been shot at least six times.
Although a murder weapon was never recovered, prosecutors used other forms of evidence, including surveillance footage from Hernandez's own home security system, to implicate the former Patriots player. Some footage reportedly showed Hernandez holding a gun just minutes after the shooting occurred. Court documents released in June 2013, shortly after Hernandez's arrest, stated: "Interior surveillance footage shows Aaron Hernandez pass through the living room area of the residence while holding an item, identified by investigators being consistent with a firearm."
Other evidence, most of which was largely circumstantial, included a piece of chewed bubblegum and a shell casing found in a rental car Hernandez borrowed the day of the murder. Prosecutors also looked at tire tracks, which they alleged matched the rental car Hernandez drove that night.
Authorities also collected evidence from Hernandez's cellphone after determining that Lloyd texted and called him shortly before his death, revealing the two men indeed had plans to meet, court documents showed. However, Hernandez's defense argued that while their client may have been present at Lloyd's murder, he was not the one who committed the crime.
Two friends of Hernandez's, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, have also been charged in connection with the murder. They will be tried separately at a later date. Both Wallace and Ortiz face murder charges.
Hernandez was sentenced late Wednesday morning shortly after the guilty verdict was handed down. Before the judge formally sentenced the former football star, family members of Lloyd, including his uncle and sister, read emotional statements to the court.
A first-degree murder conviction receives the mandatory punishment of life in prison without possibility of parole in Massachusetts, which does not have the death penalty. Hernandez's attorneys are expected to appeal to the highest court in the Commonwealth.
Last May, Hernandez was also indicted on two first-degree murder charges for the 2012 double homicide at a Boston nightclub. Hernandez was not linked to the nightclub shooting until after he was arrested in connection with Odin Lloyd's death. He was in jail awaiting trial for Lloyd's murder when he was charged with those two separate counts of murder.
Hernandez has not yet gone to trial for the alleged shooting deaths of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado, two Cape Verde nationals who prosecutors say had a run-in with the then-NFL player at the nightclub, leading to the fatal shooting at a stoplight in South Boston. Hernandez was scheduled to stand trial in late May for the alleged double homicide, but the trial was abruptly canceled on Wednesday, with a new date to be set in the near future.
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