As the seventh full week of testimony in the first-degree murder trial against former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez came to a close this week, witnesses described him as acting strangely and glaring at the victim two nights before the killing.
Hernandez is on trial in Fall River, Massachusetts, in connection with the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player who was found dead June 17, 2013.
The former tight end had signed a five-year contract extension worth $40 million but, less than a year later, Hernandez was charged with the murder of the man who was dating the sister of his fiancée. Hours after his arrest on June 26, 2013, the Patriots dropped him from the team. Two of Hernandez’s closest associates are co-defendants in the case.
Evidence collected in Lloyd’s death led to two more murder charges against Hernandez in a separate case in Boston. He is accused of shooting Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in July 2012, allegedly over a spilled drink.
‘Irritated and very aggressive’
Two witnesses who saw Hernandez at the Boston nightclub Rumor just 48 hours before Lloyd’s killing said he looked angry and aggressive. Lloyd was with Hernandez at the club that Friday night.
On Thursday, prosecutors called witness No. 100: Kasey Arma, a nightclub promoter. She told jurors she danced with Aaron Hernandez at the club in the early morning of June 15, 2013. Hernandez approached her. “He walked by me and he tapped my hip.”
Arma testified that she danced with Hernandez for about 10 minutes. “He was pleasant and kind of charming,” she said.
Then he left abruptly. When he returned about 10 minutes later, Arma said, Hernandez grabbed her arm and took her to another part of the club. His demeanor changed. He was “very aggressive,” she testified. Then, she said, he asked her “to show what I could do with that thing,” referring to her backside.
“He was irritated and very aggressive,” she told the jury.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Michael Fee showed surveillance video of Arma dancing with Hernandez. There was bumping and grinding, mostly with her backside to him. It was uncomfortable to watch in court. Jurors watched the video with laser focus.
Fee asked Arma, “What kind of dance is that called?”
Arma said she didn’t know. Some of the female jurors appeared to chuckle softly.
Earlier in the week, witness Kwami Nicholas testified that he also saw Hernandez at Rumor and the ex-player “seemed like he was angry about something.” Hernandez’s mouth looked like a “grunt,” he said.
Nicholas, a college student, was at the club with friends — some of whom were friends with Lloyd. When Lloyd was talking closely with one of his friends, Hernandez looked angry, according to Nicholas. Hernandez was standing near the DJ at the time, about 15 feet away from Lloyd and his friend.
Nicholas said Hernandez glared at them for a few minutes.
During tough questioning from Fee, Nicholas stood his ground. The defense showed jurors Nicholas’ initial recorded interview with detectives in which he gave a different description of what he saw and was less critical of Hernandez.
Nicholas also remembered Hernandez “storming out of the club.” “He looked angry,” Nicholas told the jury. As Hernandez walked down the street, “he motioned back with his arms as if to say get away from me.”
Prosecutors played surveillance video backing up Nicholas’ description.
During that video, Lloyd is also seen following Hernandez at a distance.
Though prosecutors are trying to establish that Hernandez was angry, jurors still don’t know why.
Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez’s fiancée and mother of his baby daughter, was not in court to see the dirty-dancing video.
She hasn’t been seen in court since March 6.
But Jenkins’ name did come up in court regarding a defense motion to suppress evidence gathered from Hernandez’s house in November 2014. Jurors were not present for that debate.
The prosecution showed before-and-after photos of a closet in Hernandez’s home in North Attleboro. One photo from June 2013 showed the sneakers Hernandez wore the night Lloyd was killed. It also showed the shoes Hernandez associate Carlos Ortiz wore the same night. The two pairs of shoes rested on top of a bunch of other shoes.
In the second photo, taken in November 2014, the same closet is seen with all of the shoes except the ones Hernandez and Ortiz were wearing the night of the shooting. They were no longer in the closet or any other part of the house.
Prosecutors wanted to link Jenkins to the disappearance of the shoes. McCauley referred to the defendant’s jailhouse comments that “she does what I want,” referring to Jenkins.
McCauley also told the judge that Hernandez “was directing her (Jenkins) to give money to Tanya Singleton at the time where he had just recently told her not to talk.”
He added, “We know she didn’t talk and then was held in contempt.”
Tanya Singleton is Hernandez’s cousin.
Court observers wonder when Jenkins will be back. The last time Jenkins was in court, a reporter noticed she was no longer wearing her engagement ring.
However, Jenkins is facing perjury charges for allegedly lying to investigators and has been granted immunity to testify at the trial.
Will testimony about Hernandez’s liaisons with other women — and negative texts about Jenkins — affect her testimony? Does her absence mean she’ll turn on her fiance?
The answers may be a few weeks away. There are indications the Commonwealth may wrap up its case by mid-April,
Much testimony focused on the shoes Hernandez wore the night Lloyd was shot.
A Nike consultant testified that Hernandez was wearing Nike Air Jordan Retro 11 Lows in a size 13. About 93,000 pairs of that shoe were made, significantly fewer in a size 13. The shoe’s sole makes a distinct impression, according to Lt. Steven Bennett of the Massachusetts State Police.
The consultant testified under questioning from defense attorney Jamie Sultan that other Nike shoes– more than 3 million — make the same impression
Yet Bennett, who works in crime scene services, testified that the footwear impression left near Lloyd’s body was “in agreement” or consistent with the Air Jordan Retro 11 Lows size 13.
Although he did not have the shoes that Hernandez wore that night, he an identical pair to make his determination. Bennett did so by creating a transparency of the sole and laying it over a photo of the footwear impression. Jurors watched as he drew lines showing how the sole aligned with the impression.
What may have been a key moment for the prosecution was quickly derailed by defense attorney Jamie Sultan.
Sultan questioned the science behind analyzing foot impressions, and he introduced a March 2014 report from Bennett saying the partial footwear impression lacked certain detail and quality to make a comparison.
Sultan hammered Bennett on that report.
Bennett admitted that his reexamination helped the prosecution.
McCauley was able to undo some of the damage, allowing Bennett to explain that it was only after gaining access to Air Jordan Retro 11s in December 2014 that he was able to make a comparison. He testified that what he thought was a lack of distinction were actually gaps in the design of the sole.
It’s clear from the testimony and the filing for a search warrant in November 2014 that investigators overlooked the shoes worn by Hernandez, Ortiz and Ernest Wallace — another co-defendant — the night of Lloyd’s death, despite having a photo of them from June 2013. Seventeen months into the investigation, they searched Hernandez’s house again.
None of the shoes were found.
More surveillance videos
The prosecution brought in three separate witnesses who either owned or worked for companies in the industrial park along John Dietsch Boulevard where Lloyd’s body was found.
With these witnesses and collected surveillance videos, prosecutors gave jurors a road map of the route they say Hernandez drove to the Corliss Landing crime scene.
While the car’s make and model aren’t distinguishable in the video, jurors could see its lights go by at specific times that match when Hernandez, Wallace, Ortiz and Lloyd would have been in the car.
Hernandez’s cousin helped Wallace leave town
Tanya Singleton arranged for her aunt to drive her and Wallace to Georgia in the days after Lloyd’s death.
Testifying for the prosecution, Euna Ritchon said Singleton asked her on June 21, 2013, to move up her planned trip to visit her daughter in Georgia. She brought Wallace with her. At the time, Singleton was married to Ritchon’s nephew, TL Singleton. He died in a car crash a little more than a week later.
Ritchon also testified that Wallace suggested using back roads to drive out of Connecticut and through New York to avoid tolls. She said Wallace carried his clothes in a black trash bag. Prosecutors were attempting to get jurors to link it to the black trash bag Shayanna Jenkins removed from her house just a few days earlier.
Prosecutors say that bag held the gun used to kill Lloyd.
After spending the night at the home of Ritchon’s daughter, Wallace boarded a bus to Florida. That’s where he surrendered to police.
Wallace has pleaded not guilty to the charge of an accessory after the fact of a slaying in Lloyd’s death.