After 39 days before the jury, and after 131 witnesses, the prosecution rested Thursday in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial, content that jurors will be able to sort out a mountain of circumstantial evidence.
The day wound down with a final look at home surveillance shots purportedly showing Hernandez with a black pistol the day of the murder and then it ended with the gruesome reality of Odin Lloyd’s death in a lonely gravel pit the morning of June 17, 2013: Shot six times — in the arm, chest, abdomen and back, dead in a matter of seconds or minutes from any one of three of the wounds.
“There would be pain,” said Dr. William Zane, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Lloyd’s body and who was the final prosecution witness.
A short time later, lead prosecutor William McCauley rose and announced that Zane’s testimony concluded the state’s case.
Friday has been set aside for a hearing on pending motions and on jury instructions, and then the defense opens its case Monday — and it appears it may be a very short one. Defense attorney James Sultan indicated earlier this week that Hernandez’s team may need only one day to present its case.
And he indicated he may call only one witness, from a laboratory in Texas that conducts DNA testing.
Over the weeks of the trial, which was stopped repeatedly by weather delays during a historically harsh New England winter, prosecutors laid out voluminous evidence, some of it powerful.
At the core of its case, the prosecution’s allegation is pretty simple: that Hernandez, then the star tight end of the New England Patriots, grew angry with Lloyd after an incident at a Boston nightclub early the morning of June 15, 2013.
It contends that late the next night, Hernandez summoned two associates from his hometown of Bristol, Conn., to his house in North Attleboro, Mass., and at the same time sent a series of text messages arranging to meet Lloyd.
Then, they allege, Hernandez drove his alleged accomplices, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace Jr., to Boston to pick up Lloyd, then returned to North Attleboro and pulled into a secluded field in an industrial park.
There, Lloyd was gunned down.
Prosecutors devoted considerable time to cell phone evidence: detailing text messages Hernandez sent to both Lloyd and his alleged accomplices and laying out transmission data that effectively detailed the movements of each of the phones of the key players.
They presented extensive video evidence. Jurors saw images of Hernandez and his alleged accomplices stopping at a gas station on the way to pick up Lloyd. They saw images of Lloyd getting into a rented Nissan Altima at 2:33 a.m. on June 17, 2013. They saw a picture of the Nissan going through a toll booth without stopping to pay at 2:52 a.m. They saw grainy images of the car making its way through the industrial park and into the area where the murder occurred and then leaving four minutes later at 3:27 a.m.
And they saw voluminous footage captured by Hernandez’s own home surveillance system, including him, Ortiz and Wallace arriving at his mansion, located 1.2 miles from the murder scene by road, at 3:30 a.m.
Prosecutors also have presented powerful evidence that the rented Nissan was involved — showing fingerprints of Hernandez, Wallace, Ortiz and Lloyd all were discovered inside. At one point they rolled the Nissan’s right rear tire into the courtroom, and troopers were able to show jurors rocks imbedded in the tread and link them to detailed photographs of a tire track at the murder scene.
But, as with any murder case, there were problems as well.
Prosecutors showed that the murder weapon was a Glock, a determination based on the shell casings found at the scene and in the Nissan, and they brought in an official from the company who concluded that images from Hernandez’s home surveillance system, captured around the time of the murder, showed him with a Glock.
But the murder weapon has never been found.
And defense attorneys, who often do most of their work during the prosecution’s case, raised questions about the bullets recovered from Lloyd’s body and from the ground beneath it, suggesting that they could have come only from a specially made Glock that is available only to law enforcement.
Evidence of a Nike Air Jordan print found near Lloyd’s body was muddled — prosecutors showed Hernandez had boxes for those kinds of shoes in his home, and they showed video images of him wearing a pair the day of the murder, but they don’t have the shoes.
That’s because they failed to collect three pairs of shoes they photographed during searches of Hernandez’s home multiple times in the days after the murder. Last November, they concluded those shoes were Hernandez’s Air Jordans and the footwear worn by Ortiz and Wallace at the time of the killing, and they obtained a new search warrant and returned to the former NFL star’s home.
When they did, the shoes were long gone.
Defense attorneys also pointed out that police officers failed to obtain a DNA sample from Wallace and that they gathered some evidence at the scene without measuring or marking its location, something detectives said was necessary because a heavy storm was moving in.
They also attacked one of the prosecution’s key pieces of evidence: that Hernandez’s DNA was discovered on a shell casing found under the driver’s seat of the Nissan that matched those found at the scene. But that shell casing was stuck to a piece of chewed Bubble Yum, and prosecution witnesses acknowledged that the DNA could have transferred from the gum to the casing.
And when it came to motive, the testimony was murkier.
Prosecutors contend that Hernandez grew angry with Lloyd after an incident at a Boston nightclub. But no witness who was called saw exactly what went down, and defense attorneys raised questions about inconsistencies in the stories of those who did testify.
And then there are Ortiz and Wallace.
Both, like Hernandez, were drug users. And so defense attorneys looked for every chance to raise that specter — that one of them, in a drug-induced state, actually was the shooter.
Hernandez faces one count of murder and two firearms charges in the slaying of Lloyd. Ortiz and Wallace also have been charged with murder and will be tried separately. Neither is expected to testify at Hernandez’s trial.
Prosecutors have not said who they believe fired the shots that killed Lloyd, and they do not have to prove that Hernandez pulled the trigger to convict him of murder — only that he was involved in the slaying in a material way and that he did so with intent.
And no matter what happens in this case, Hernandez’s legal troubles aren’t over.
He has separately been indicted on multiple murder and assault charges in the July 16, 2012 shooting that killed Daniel De Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, in Boston. Another man was wounded. That trial, currently set to begin May 28, is expected to be pushed back until sometime later this year or to early 2016.
Hernandez faces another trial on allegations that he had a high-powered rifle, an illegal magazine and ammunition in his home when it was searched as part of the Lloyd investigation.
And, finally, he has been indicted on an assault and battery charge in the wake of a jailhouse fight and on a charge of threatening an officer.