Last month, I published a blog post titled “Successful day for Aaron Hernandez excluding trial evidence” after last Friday’s pre-trial conference where Judge Marsh excluded some significant evidence that the Prosecutors attempted to admit in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial scheduled to start on January 5th, including the victim’s text messages to his sister, a Florida incident where Hernandez allegedly shot his friend in the eye, allegations of a double homicide which Hernandez is also charged with, and a 2009 photo of Hernandez allegedly holding a gun.
Hernandez, while with two co-defendants, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, is alleged to have murdered Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013, in a secluded gravel construction area within an industrial park in Bristol County, Massachusetts. Lloyd was dating Hernandez’s fiancé sister and had been out with Hernandez several nights before at the Rumor Nightclub in Boston.
After the pre-trial rulings, I saw a widespread response of discontent and surprise throughout the internet predicting Hernandez’s acquittal and drawing comparisons to Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman and even OJ Simpson. While I candidly concede that anything can happen at trial and Prosecutors have the toughest job of any lawyer in the world with the highest burden of proof, the Prosecutors in the Hernandez case have one significant thing that all the above cases did not have – surveillance video.
While there is no smoking gun or surveillance video of the actual killing in the Hernandez case, it seems that a very thorough investigation was able to secure strong circumstantial evidence including, but not limited to, a string of videos that capture the actions of the co-defendants’ preparations all the way through the co-defendants returning to the Hernandez home after the alleged murder.
While it is impossible to know or anticipate every piece of evidence the Commonwealth is expected to rely upon, below are some of the most persuasive anticipated pieces of evidence the Commonwealth is expected to present:
The Surveillance Video
In a world where cameras are everywhere, video evidence can be very persuasive objective evidence to prove a fact at issue. The quality of surveillance videos will certainly be very important to the jury throughout the trial, but based on affidavits and other arguments in open court, the Prosecutors can be expected to present video evidence which purportedly shows:
- Hernandez meeting with co-defendants Ortiz and Wallace before the alleged murder at his North Attleboro home; Hernandez walking through the living room holding what investigators identify as a firearm; the three men getting into a vehicle consistent with a 2012 Nissan Altima and leaving at 1:12 am.
- Hernandez, Ortiz, Wallace at a gas station where Hernandez was driving the silver vehicle, refueled the vehicle and purchased a Black and Mild and bubble gum. The vehicle departed at approximately 2:10 am.
- Video Surveillance from across the street from Lloyd’s apartment which depicts an individual believed to be Lloyd entering the rear passenger seat of a vehicle consistent with a 2012 Nissan Altima.
- A vehicle entering and exiting the Industrial Park where Lloyd’s body was found at 3:23 and 3:27 am, respectively, and thereafter, traveling in the direction of the Hernandez home (Employees from a business in the vicinity of the crime scene reported hearing multiple gunshots coming from the crime scene between approximately 3:00 am and 3:30 am on June 17th).
- Driving past several locations in the direction of Hernandez’s home as close as 1 mile/min from the home
- Hernandez and co-defendants Ortiz and Wallace returning to the Hernandez home in a vehicle consistent with the 2012 Nissan Altima at 3:30 am; Hernandez standing at the entrance to the basement with what investigators identify as a firearm; the vehicle returned with its driver’s side view mirror missing which was previously intact before Llyod was picked up.
The Nissan Altima
The 2012 Nissan Altima which can be seen in the surveillance videos is a vehicle that was rented by Hernandez from an Enterprise Rent-A-Car which is located within 15 minutes from Hernandez’s home. Hernandez returned the vehicle the following day with Ortiz and Wallace. The vehicle was returned with damage to the driver’s side door and with the side view mirror missing. Hernandez told a manager that he just came outside and saw the vehicle was damaged. Furthermore, a spent .45 caliber shell casing was found in the vehicle (after it was disposed into a dumpster by an employee). Lloyd’s fingerprints were also lifted and identified in the vehicle. Soil found the undercarriage and wheel well consistent with the dirt from the industrial park. Hernandez rented another vehicle, a Chrysler 300, which was given to Wallace to return home in.
Lloyd and the Crime Scene
The Medical Examiner determined that Lloyd’s cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death was a homicide. Of the multiple gunshots, Lloyd was shot in the back and twice in the chest while lying on the ground.
All the spent casings recovered from the crime scene were .45 caliber and fired from the same unrecovered .45 caliber firearm. Ballistic testing also showed that the .45 caliber spent casing recovered from the 2012 Nissan Altima at the Enterprise was fired from the same weapon that fired the spent casing recovered from the crime scene.
Judge Marsh has ruled that victim’s text messages are not admissible but that does not mean Hernandez or his co-defendants’ text messages are excluded as well. In fact, all of Hernandez’s text messages to Llyod and the messages between the co-defendants during the course of the conspiracy (planning, execution and even cover-up) will be admissible in the Hernandez trial including the following message sent and received on the night of Lloyd’s murder:
- Hernandez’s text message at 9:02 pm to Wallace: “Please make it back cuZ I’m Def trying to step for allitle”
- Hernandez’s text message at 9:05 pm to Lloyd: “I’m coming to grab that tonight u gon be around I need dat and we could step for alittle again.”
- Hernandez’s text message at 9:35pm and 10:23pm to Wallace: “Get ur as up here” and “Hurry ur ass up nigga”
- Text message from Ortiz at 10:21 pm to Hernandez: “On r way a… God Bless”
- Hernandez text message to Ortiz: “Bet hurry up tell fish to drive nigga”.
Due to several Constitutional protections such as the Confrontational Clause, the three co-defendants, in this case, will all be tried separately. The Commonwealth may use a co-defendant or other biased witnesses to prove their case against Hernandez. As a former Prosecutor, I know that there are many dangers that result from relying on a co-defendant. Most notably, they will certainly be attacked and impeached if they are given a reduced sentence on their own case for testifying. Calling a co-defendant may also cause the jury to focus on the co-defendant, instead of Hernandez.
For example, early in the case, it was believed that Ortiz was cooperating with law enforcement because he was initially only charged with possession of a weapon without a permit and his name was not revealed in affidavits (like Hernandez and Wallace). Ortiz is believed to have told investigators that Hernandez was the shooter, even though he first claimed to be sleeping and failed a polygraph examination that he was involved in the shooting. While Ortiz or Wallace may point the finger at Hernandez, the credibility of these witnesses will certainly be attacked by Hernandez’s attorneys, who are highly skilled criminal defense attorneys.
As I stated above, I candidly concede that anything can happen at trial especially given the Commonwealth’s standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” that must be met. Notwithstanding, as a former homicide prosecutor and Certified Criminal Trial Attorney, I believe that the Commonwealth has a very strong circumstantial case against Aaron Hernandez. While Hernandez had the benefit of several successful evidential pre-trial rulings, there still exists a mountain of circumstantial evidence that Hernandez was involved in the murder.