Aaron Hernandez must have loved his brand new, white and black, patent leather Air Jordan Retro 11s. He decided to wear them late on a Sunday evening in June 2013, shortly after he purchased them, completing his ensemble with a white designer hoodie and black slacks.
A couple hours later, early Monday morning, a gas station surveillance camera captured Hernandez dancing merrily and showing off his new shoes. He was on his way with two pals to pick up another pal, Odin Lloyd, in Boston. Sixteen hours later, police investigators in Fall River, Massachusetts, noticed a distinctive shoe print clearly etched in the dirt a few feet from a bullet-riddled body -- Odin Lloyd's.
It took the police forensics examiners a while to figure it out, but a Massachusetts State Police crime scene analyst determined the print in the dirt at the murder scene matched sparkling new, size 13 Jordan Retros. He testified to as much Wednesday in the Hernandez murder trial.
Hernandez's new shoes are now powerful evidence of his complicity in Lloyd's murder.
Nike launched the Retro 11s on June 8, 2013, as the latest in the product line that began in 1985 with the introduction of the first Air Jordans. Hernandez was an early purchaser, one of 93,000 people who have bought the Retro 11 shoes in various sizes since the launch.
The distinctive shoes feature a sole with a herringbone pattern, a series of three circles of various sizes, a ripple in the middle and the famous Jordan "Jumpman" logo. Easily visible at the murder scene were the herringbone pattern and ripples.
The state forensics analyst who described the scene for the jury, Lt. Steven C. Bennett, made photographs of the footprint at the scene shortly after Lloyd's body was discovered. He used bright lights and a four-legged tripod, shot images from various angles and displayed them for the jury. He then used a size 13 Retro 11 shoe exemplar to make a transparency that he would try to match to the print left in the dirt.
Using a projector in the courtroom and large video screens in the jury box, Bennett showed how the transparency of an actual shoe matched the print in the dirt.
It was not a great moment for Hernandez and his lawyers. Hernandez must have known it was coming.
Early in the investigation, the police raided Hernandez's mansion in North Attleboro and took photographs throughout the house, including of a large closet. Clearly visible in one photograph were the Retro 11s.
When the police investigation progressed to the point of focusing on the shoe print at the murder scene, the investigators, including Bennett, returned to the house with a search warrant for the shoes. The shoes were not in the closet and have not been found. Nike provided the exemplar Bennett used to connect the print at the scene to Hernandez's new shoes.
The court session Wednesday ended in the middle of an aggressive and thorough cross-examination of Bennett -- a recognition of the importance of the shoe evidence by the Hernandez legal team. James Sultan, a skilled and experienced trial advocate, has already shown that Bennett initially thought the footprint at the murder scene was not of sufficient quality to use in the investigation. Months later, prompted by another investigator, he reconsidered his opinion and began the work that made the connection between the impression in the dirt and the shoe.
Sultan also used an authoritative textbook about footprint investigation to confront Bennett with his failure to make a mold of the print at the scene and to rely only on photographs.
Sultan will continue his attack on Bennett on Thursday, and lead prosecutor William McCauley will come back with questions that will give Bennett a chance to defend his work.
But no one in the courtroom will likely mention a major consideration: Hernandez was wearing brand new shoes. He might have been wearing them for the first time. There was no wear on his Jordan Retro 11s.
If he had been wearing old shoes with soles worn smooth, there would be no print left behind, and the prosecution would have a difficult time proving he was at the scene of the murder, despite other evidence.
The prosecution does not have a murder weapon. It is scrambling to prove a motive. But it has a convincing footprint from new shoes Hernandez wore that fateful Sunday evening.