The prosecution in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial has put together an impressive combination of forensics, ballistics, technology and photographic evidence, but it may be Hernandez's stupidity that leads to his conviction and a lifetime in the penitentiary.
The forensics evidence presented seven weeks into the trial includes a tire print at the murder scene that matches a rental car Hernandez drove the night Odin Lloyd was killed. The ballistics evidence shows that the killer used a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic weapon. Cellphone technology tracks the route that Hernandez and two others followed in the rental car from Hernandez's home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, to Boston, where they picked up Lloyd early on the morning of June 17, 2013. Security photography shows Lloyd entering the rental car at 2:32 a.m. Cellphone technology then tracks the rental car south out of Boston to an industrial yard near Hernandez's home, where Lloyd's bloody and bullet-riddled body was later found amid .45-caliber shell casings.
And then there's the stupidity: Hernandez, prosecutors have laid out to jurors, came home with a gun and did virtually nothing to hide it.
It's a 45-minute drive from Lloyd's home back to the industrial yard near the Hernandez mansion. According to a 14-camera video surveillance system at Hernandez's house, Hernandez drove the rental car into his mansion's driveway at 3:29 a.m. As he exited the car and walked into the foyer, through the kitchen and into his "great room," Hernandez had something in his hand. Still photographs captured from the video system show clearly that the object is a gun.
Hernandez made no attempt to hide the gun from his cameras. It is wholly visible, black against his white hoodie, its distinctive shape and size clearly defined. The photos may not qualify as high definition, but they easily qualify as pictures of a man with a Glock .45 in his hand minutes after an erstwhile friend had been murdered with a Glock .45.
The thing is, Hernandez had plenty of time to delete the videos showing all of that. Lloyd's body was not discovered until the afternoon, and the police did not make any connection to Hernandez until the early evening. He had at least 16 hours to do something about the video before the police were ready to search the house. But Hernandez did not delete anything, leaving the police a trove of evidence that they converted into the devastating photographs that the prosecutors presented to the jury last week.
There's more, too. In addition to the video of Hernandez with the gun, the surveillance system shows Hernandez's fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, carrying a heavily loaded garbage bag out of the house after the murder and a few minutes after receiving what appeared to be a coded text message from Hernandez. Was she removing incriminating evidence, possibly including a gun?
It's not as if Hernandez had not thought of removing evidence. Prosecutors say he managed to delete other things -- numerous text messages that had been sent after the murder and the discovery of the body. The messages were sent between Hernandez and Ernest Wallace, Hernandez's hometown friend who was also in the rental car. Wallace is also charged with first-degree murder and will be tried separately.
We won't hear the word "stupidity" from Hernandez's lawyers when they discuss the deletion of surveillance videos. But one of them, Michael Fee, told the jury in his opening statement that Hernandez's failure to delete the videos indicates that Hernandez is not guilty of anything and has nothing to hide.
"He initiated the upgrade of the [security] system," Fee told the jury, and "he was trained in how to stop it." Fee added that even though Hernandez had the system "under his control" from 4 a.m. until 11 p.m. on the day of the murder, "he did not destroy the system."
After seven weeks of this kind of ballistics, forensics, technology, and photographic evidence, Hernandez finds himself in a precarious position. It was not supposed to be this way, given the prosecution has no murder weapon, and a motive for the killing is not clear. The photos with the gun and the ballistics seem to be solving the weapon issue.
Hernandez's team of skilled and experienced lawyers is doing what it can to attack the police investigation and to question the quality of the evidence piling up against Hernandez, but the tire tracks, the fingerprints on the rental car, a footprint at the scene that may belong to Hernandez, the shell casings found at the scene and at the rental agency, the thousands of pages of cellphone records tracking every move that Hernandez made on the weekend of the murder, and the photos with the gun are difficult to explain.
The Hernandez lawyers knew it was coming. In his opening statement on Jan. 29, Fee told the jury they would be seeing photographs from security video. "You will decide whether it is a gun in his hand," Fee argued, "or it is an iPad, a phone, or a remote control."
Another of Hernandez's lawyers, James Sultan, last week showed the jurors photographs of Hernandez with what was obviously an iPad in use and glowing in his hand. But, if it was obviously an iPad in those photos, it was equally obvious that it was a gun in the photos presented by the prosecution.
It was not just any gun in the photos. Lead prosecutor William McCauley presented Kyle Aspinall, a Glock Inc. official, to examine the photos and to explain to the jurors that the gun in Hernandez's hand was a Glock. An impressive and articulate witness, Aspinall used several points of comparison to conclude that the weapon was a Glock that matched the casings and the bullets found at the scene, at the rental agency, and in the autopsy performed on Lloyd.
Aspinall showed the jury a Glock .45 as he walked along the rail in front of the 17 jurors to give them a close look. The comparison between the weapon in his hand and the weapon in Hernandez's hand was obvious and seemed conclusive. Responding to a series of objections and criticisms from an increasingly desperate Hernandez legal team, Judge E. Susan Garsh made a curious ruling about the different points of identification. She told the jurors they could consider some and not others. But the gun in Hernandez's hand in the photos seemed to be identical to the gun that Aspinall showed the jury.
In a final flourish for the jury, McCauley showed Aspinall a photo from the surveillance video of Hernandez with another dark object in his hand. Aspinall identified it as a 13-shot magazine that was an essential part of the Glock that he brought to court.
In his cross-examination of Aspinall, Sultan suggested that the gun in Hernandez's hand might have been a replica of a Glock or a pellet gun made to look like a Glock. But the pellet gun that Sultan used as an example features in its original, manufactured state a bright orange object at the end of the barrel. The one he showed the jury had been mysteriously colored black to make it look more like the Glock .45 that Aspinall had shown the jury.
The prosecution's gun evidence is likely to be more impressive to the jury as the result of another episode involving Hernandez and what at least one witness thought was a gun. Forty-eight hours before Hernandez picked up Lloyd in Boston, Hernandez and Lloyd were hanging out at the nightclubs on Warrenton Street in the Boston theater district.
According to a valet working at a club known as Rumor (now called Icon), Hernandez left the club, obtained the keys to his black Suburban parked in a VIP slot on the street from the valet, took a black handgun from the vehicle, and put it in his waistband. Surveillance videos show that Hernandez remained on the street, apparently waiting for someone, and did not re-enter the club. (Security frisks anyone who enters the club.)
The valet informed his supervisor. The supervisor told the jury that he watched Hernandez for several minutes, was uncertain about any gun, and concluded that Hernandez "did not pose a threat at that time."
Presenting to the jury what appeared to have happened on Warrenton Street helps the prosecution in two ways: It shows Hernandez with a gun in a crowded urban street. And it shows that the prosecution is presenting a thorough and comprehensive picture of the lethal weekend. Instead of limiting their presentation to evidence that is favorable to their side, the prosecutors are offering all of the evidence on the issue, thereby enhancing their credibility with the jury.
In his opening statement seven weeks ago, Hernandez attorney Fee warned the jury, "The prosecution will dazzle and distract you." Pointing to the four prosecutors sitting nearby, Fee added, "they will flood you with meaningless facts."
It was a nice rhetorical flourish for Hernandez and his lawyers, but it is now coming back to haunt them. It is increasingly obvious that prosecutor McCauley and his team have assembled a compelling picture of the murder of Odin Lloyd on Father's Day weekend in 2013. Their laser-like approach to every detail may not "dazzle," but it is far from "meaningless." It is pushing Hernandez and his lawyers into an unexpected and difficult corner.