Jurors shown video of Aaron Hernandez dismantling phone
FALL RIVER, Mass. – Hours after Odin Lloyd’s body was discovered, Aaron Hernandez dismantled his own phone and used one belonging to one of his attorneys as he sat in a car in a police station parking lot – a move that prosecutors have suggested was an effort to have an accomplice destroy evidence and keep investigators from ever learning about it.
And Tuesday, jurors considering the murder case against the former football star watched all this unfold on television screens in the courtroom.
The grainy images, captured by a camera mounted on the outside of the police station, showed Hernandez with his BlackBerry disassembled in his lap while he used another phone. The video was played for the jury after prosecutors convinced Judge E. Susan Garsh that it was both relevant and admissible.
Hernandez’s attorneys fought to have it excluded but in the end won only a partial victory when prosecutors agreed not to identify who gave the phone to the former New England Patriots tight end. But defense attorneys and Hernandez also had to sign a statement, known as a stipulation, acknowledging that he used someone else’s phone to make the calls – something the judge questioned the former NFL star about before the jury was brought into the courtroom and the video was played.
Without a stipulation, Judge Garsh said, the prosecution would have to present witnesses to testify to these facts and through a lawyer “you have right to confront those witnesses and to cross examine them. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, your honor,” Hernandez said.
Prosecutors have alleged those calls were to Ernest Wallace Jr., one of two other men allegedly with Hernandez when Lloyd was killed, and that they were part of the effort to conceal the crime and destroy evidence.
Jurors haven’t heard that piece of the prosecution’s case yet, but when the video was played they watched intently.
Hernandez, 25, faces one count of murder and two firearms charges in the killing of Lloyd, who was gunned down in a secluded field less than a mile from the player’s home. Lloyd, a 27-year-old semi-professional football player, was dating Shaneah Jenkins, sister of Hernandez’s finacee, Shayanna Jenkins.
Prosecutors have alleged that Hernandez summoned two associates from his hometown of Bristol, Conn., to his Massachusetts home late the night of June 16, 2013, and simultaneously made plans to meet with Lloyd. Hernandez then allegedly drove the other two men, Carlos Ortiz and Wallace Jr., to the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, picked up Lloyd and returned to North Attleboro.
According to court documents, Hernandez allegedly drove into a secluded area in an industrial park that is surrounded by woods and mounds of asphalt, gravel and dirt. There, Lloyd was shot multiple times.
Although prosecutors have not said who they believe fired the fatal shots, they have asserted that Hernandez "orchestrated" the killing. Ortiz and Wallace have also been indicted on murder charges but will be tried separately. The prosecution does not plan to call either as a witness in the trial.
Tuesday was a short day but a busy in the trial – prosecutors driving home one point with that video, defense attorneys raising more questions about the thoroughness of police investigators.
And it was a day with another weather delay – testimony, which had been scheduled to continue all day, was cut to less than four hours as snow continued to fall in region that has been pounded by storm after storm in recent weeks. Tuesday was the ninth day of Hernandez’s trial, which began Jan. 29 and has been interrupted multiple times by severe snowstorms, scheduling problems and issues with jurors – two of whom have been dismissed.
Defense attorneys continued on the theme they outlined in their opening statement: That police officers were sloppy in their investigation. And they got right to it Tuesday with defense attorney James Sultan’s cross-examination of North Attleboro police officer John Grim, who acknowledged that he saw a footprint in the area where Odin Lloyd’s body was found – but did not photograph it or direct anyone else to.
"Why not?" Sultan asked North Attleboro police officer John Grim.
"I don’t have an answer for that question, sir," Grim answered.
Footprints in the secluded field where Lloyd’s body was discovered are a key issue in the trial. Prosecutors have asserted that a footprint found at the scene is "consistent" with a pair of Air Jordan sneakers owned by Hernandez, the former star tight end of the New England Patriots. Defense attorneys have questioned every prosecution witness who was at the scene about their observations of footprints and have suggested multiple times that many people were tromping around the area of Lloyd’s body after it was discovered by a teenage jogger late the afternoon of June 17, 2013.
Sultan, the defense attorney, also drilled into Grim on his observations of a white towel found at the murder scene.
In his initial report, Grim wrote that it was 4 to 5 feet from Lloyd’s body; on the witness stand, he said that was a mistake and it was actually 4 to 5 yards from Lloyd’s body.
Sultan also suggested that Grim may have been coached, that changing the distance of the towel would be helpful to the prosecution – something the officer denied.
And Sultan noted that no one actually measured the distance from Lloyd’s body to the towel.
The towel – specifically its location – has been another consistent theme for the defense. Surveillance camera images from a filling station, taken while Hernandez and the other two men were allegedly on their way to Boston to pick up Lloyd, show a white towel around Ortiz’s neck. The fact it was found on the ground at the murder scene suggests Ortiz got out of the car – and gives defense attorneys an avenue to raise the specter that someone other than Hernandez was responsible for Lloyd’s murder.
Sultan asked Grim whether he was aware of the filling station video – he said he wasn’t. That exchange prompted Garsh to tell the jury that questions are not evidence.
Sultan returned to the same theme when questioning Thomas French, a specialist in mammals for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife who was asked by investigators to look at animal droppings left on a marijuana cigarette found near Lloyd’s body.
French testified he believed the scat was most likely from a fox, and possibly from a coyote – based in part on its size, which he determined from measurements of the blunt given to him by a state trooper.
But Sultan zeroed in on an e-mail he sent to a state trooper in which he wrote that "these measurements of the cigar do not seem to be accurate."
"I did write that," French said.
But prosecutors made a strong point with the video. And they also elicited testimony about four items found by an Enterprise Rent-A-Car employee in a Nissan Altima that prosecutors have alleged was used in the killing. The items – a shell casing, a piece of blue chewing gum, a Vitamin Water bottle, and a child’s drawing – were found by an Enterprise employee cleaning out the car and thrown into a dumpster, where police officers recovered them.
The shell casing matches five others found at the murder scene, and the gum and bottle have also been tied to Hernandez.
Testimony in the case is expected to continue every day this week.
Hernandez has separately been indicted on multiple murder and assault charges in a July 16, 2012, shooting in South Boston that left two men dead and another wounded.
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 failed to apologize. They alleged 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, killing Daniel De Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, and wounding another man.
That trial was originally 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.