A prosecutor on Thursday backed Aaron Hernandez’s cousin into a corner, and she finally yielded.
Jennifer “Gina” Mercado was shown numerous video clips of the former NFL star and his alleged accomplices on the day of Odin Lloyd’s death, and afterward she acknowledged that she did not see the crazy behavior out of any of them that she associated with the use of the drug PCP, also known as angel dust.
In testimony Tuesday, she had suggested that Ortiz and Wallace were acting “jittery” and sweating profusely several hours before Lloyd’s murder — behavior she said she had seen in the past after the two of them had smoked PCP. Defense attorneys have suggested that Ortiz or Wallace could have been high and that one of them could have fired the shots that killed Lloyd.
On Thursday — the same day testimony was interrupted by a bomb threat — Mercado watched on a television next to the witness stand as prosecutor William McCauley played a series of videos from Hernandez’s home security system. They showed Ortiz and Wallace arriving at Hernandez’s home early the morning of June 17, 2013; them walking through the house a short time later; them and Hernandez gathering in the driveway to set out on what allegedly was the trip to pick up Lloyd shortly after 1 a.m. that morning; them arriving back at the player’s home at a time prosecutors have asserted was mere minutes after the murder; them the following day, lounging in the NFL star’s “man cave” and playing with his infant daughter; them and Hernandez’s fiancée lounging near the pool the day after the alleged killing; and Hernandez saying goodbye to Ortiz and Wallace later that afternoon.
McCauley then asked her if she’d observed that erratic behavior.
McCauley pressed on, reading Mercado’s own words to her from the first day of her testimony: that when Ortiz and Wallace were on PCP, they “would act crazy, erratic, argumentative, would just sometimes scream, like, I don’t know, mumbo jumbo like it wasn’t even English.”
“Yes,” Mercado answered.
“Did you observe any conduct in the video consistent with what you’d described in the past?” he asked.
“Not in the ones I saw today, no,” she said.
Prosecutors allege that Hernandez “orchestrated” Lloyd’s murder after growing angry with him at a Boston nightclub two days earlier.
Prosecutors have asserted that Hernandez arranged to meet Lloyd and at the same time summoned Ortiz and Wallace from his hometown of Bristol, Conn., to his mansion in North Attleboro, Mass., late the night of June 16, 2013. From there, the trio allegedly set out for Boston about 1:10 a.m. on June 17.
After picking up Lloyd in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Hernandez allegedly drove the group back to North Attleboro, turning off the road and into a field that was less than a mile from his own home. There, Lloyd was gunned down, shot multiple times with a .45-caliber pistol. Lloyd’s body was discovered in that field later the same day.
Hernandez faces one count of murder and two firearms charges in the slaying of Lloyd, a 27-year-old semi-pro football player who was dating Shaneah Jenkins, the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée.
Thursday was Mercado’s second day on the stand. She was called to testify against her will; prosecutors obtained an immunity order, which meant she could not be charged with a crime but also that she could not invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
While Mercado testified, her attorney, E. Peter Parker, sat in the front row of the courtroom, watching.
McCauley also sought to shoot down another assertion: that Mercado saw Ortiz wiping his face with a towel at her home before the murder. That was a key point for the defense — a white towel was found near Lloyd’s body, and defense attorneys have suggested it is evidence that Ortiz got out of the car at the murder scene and could be the actual killer.
McCauley repeatedly read from Mercado’s grand jury testimony in which she said she wasn’t close enough to see Ortiz and Wallace when they were outside her house, and in which she made no mention of jittery, crazy behavior, profuse sweating or a white towel.
Then he asked her when she remembered the information about the towel.
“I don’t know,” Mercado said. “I don’t remember when I actually remembered that.”
Defense attorney Charles Rankin, when he was able to follow up, pointed out that Mercado was not asked about a towel in front of the grand jury.
But the point of prosecutors was clear: What Mercado said in court this week, in several cases, did not match what she’d testified to before a grand jury investigating Lloyd’s murder.
Mercado, whose mother and Hernandez’s father were siblings, had been expected to be one of the wild cards at the murder trial of the former New England Patriots tight end. She is the sister of Tanya Singleton, who was jailed after refusing to testify before a grand jury and still faces a charge of conspiracy to commit accessory after the fact to murder, an allegation based on the assertion that she helped one of Hernandez’s suspected accomplices flee to Florida.
Prosecutors have not said who they believe fired the shots that killed Lloyd, and Ortiz and Wallace also have been charged with murder and will be tried separately. Under a Massachusetts law often referred to as “joint venture,” a person can be convicted of murder even if someone else carried out the actual killing. To prove that, prosecutors would have to convince the jury that Hernandez knowingly participated in the killing and did so with intent.
The bomb scare came just before noon. The courthouse was evacuated for about an hour, and testimony resumed after the normal lunch break.
Outside the courtroom, Judge E. Susan Garsh ruled that a number of Hernandez’s recorded jailhouse conversations, which include him talking about money to Singleton in what prosecutors assert was his bid to buy her silence, can be played for the jury.
Hernandez 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.
Garsh has ruled that jurors will not hear any testimony about that case.
In the Boston killings, prosecutors have alleged that Hernandez became enraged after a man bumped him on a nightclub dance floor, spilling his drink and failing to apologize. They allege that Hernandez later followed the man and his friends as they drove away from the club, then pulled up next to their car at a stoplight and opened fire with a .38-caliber revolver.
That trial originally was scheduled to begin May 28, but the judge there indicated recently he would push it back given the anticipated length of the trial in the Lloyd case. No new trial date has been set.