In the end, a Suffolk County jury simply couldn’t buy the entire story that Alexander Bradley, the compromised star witness for the prosecution, was spinning.
So they found Aaron Hernandez not guilty on Friday of murdering Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston’s Theatre District. The jury deliberated for 37 and a half hours, spread out over six days.
As the not-guilty verdict was read, some family members of de Abreu and Furtado rushed out of the courtroom in tears. Hernandez’s fiancé, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, who only days earlier arrived in court with the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, sobbed.
“We based our decision on the evidence and the law,” foreperson Lindsey Stringer said in a brief statement.
Hernandez was found guilty of the unlawful carrying of a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and was sentenced by Judge Jeffrey A. Locke to four-to-five years.
The decision changes little for Hernandez, who was already serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in a Massachusetts prison for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd in North Attleborough. While that first conviction will be automatically appealed, it is unlikely the former New England Patriots star will be granted a new trial, let alone ever walk free.
The not-guilty verdict comes one day before the two-year anniversary of Hernandez’s conviction for the murder of Lloyd.
As he walked out of court escorted by at least four officers, heading back to prison, Hernandez turned toward Jenkins-Hernandez and mouthed, “I love you.”
The verdict is a difficult blow for prosecutors and the families of two innocent men who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – running into Hernandez and Bradley on a summer Sunday night in a Boston nightclub. The Commonwealth tried the case in an effort to deliver justice and closure for the victims and their supporters.
It is a massive victory, however, for Jose Baez, the celebrated defense attorney hired to defend Hernandez. Baez, who was not in court for the reading of the verdict reportedly due to a medical issue, can add this high-profile victory to helping young Florida mother Casey Anthony beat a charge that she murdered her 2-year-old daughter in 2011.
Too much of this case relied on the word of Bradley, an admitted drug and gun dealer who is serving time in Connecticut for an unrelated incident in which he shot up a Hartford nightclub after being involved in a gunfight. Bradley testified that Hernandez, angry at de Abreu for spilling a drink on him at a nightclub, was still fuming some two hours later when he unloaded five shots into the BMW carrying de Abreu and Furtado.
The defense countered that it was, in fact, Bradley who pulled the trigger due to a drug deal gone bad.
Neither side disagrees that Bradley was the wheelman that night. He proved, however, to be the only witness who identified Hernandez as the triggerman. Bradley had multiple motives to lie – from an immunity deal to his own hatred of Hernandez, whom allegedly shot Bradley in the face in 2013 and left him to die.
On the witness stand Bradley acknowledged he was testifying as a means of revenge only because his preferred method – murdering Hernandez – was not available due to Hernandez being incarcerated.
With so little physical evidence it was not simple to determine whether it was Hernandez who was the triggerman or Bradley. On that precise, but all-important point, there was clearly reasonable doubt.
“The man who committed these crimes was given immunity by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and will be out of prison soon,” defense attorney Ronald Sullivan said, referring to Bradley and according to Chris Villani of the Boston Herald.
Hernandez, 27, may have beaten the charge of the actual killings, but he was hardly innocent that night. He didn’t report the crime and afterward helped stash the murder car in a Connecticut house garage he was connected with.
The fall of Hernandez ranks among the most baffling and tragic in modern sports history. He, at the very least, was witness to the murder of de Abreu and Furtado just months after catching a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl and just weeks before signing a $40 million contract extension with the New England Patriots. He and his longtime girlfriend/fiancée had a baby on the way at the time.
The trial played out across six weeks in downtown Boston, just across the street from where Hernandez’s former teammates held another Super Bowl parade and celebration in February.