Aaron Hernandez trial: Prosecution turns attention to weapons charges
Two months before Odin Lloyd’s murder, football star Aaron Hernandez walked into a California bank and deposited three checks for more than $1.8 million – and at the same time diverted $15,000 to the bank account of a Florida man, allegedly to buy several guns.
According to prosecutors, that April 11, 2013, visit to a Bank of America branch in Hermosa Beach launched a convoluted scheme to get two pistols and a high-powered rifle into the NFL star’s hands, undetected.
The .45-caliber pistol used to kill Lloyd was not one of the guns involved in the transaction, but prosecutors spent Monday attempting to show jurors at Hernandez’s murder trial that a .22-caliber pistol found not far from the scene of the slaying was among the weapons obtained from the Florida man.
Tying that gun to Hernandez is part of the effort to convince the jury that he is guilty of one of the weapons charges he faces in addition to the single count of first-degree murder.
Heidi Carrera, then a teller at the Hermosa Beach bank branch, was the 108th witness called by prosecutors as Hernandez’s murder trial moved into its eighth full week of testimony.
Carrera described helping the New England Patriots tight end with the transactions on April 11, 2013. She had previously worked with Hernandez during other visits at the bank, and she recognized him after a supervisor told her who he was. Carrera described the April 11 interaction with Hernandez as “just typical customer walk-into-the-bank transactions.”
First, Carrera said Hernandez deposited three checks into his own account. One check, from the Patriots and signed by owner Robert Kraft, was for $1,835,809.97. Another from Puma was for $30,000. And the final check of $7,500 was from a sports marketing company.
During the process, Carrera told jurors, she took $15,000 in cash and removed it from the deposit at Hernandez’s request so that she could subsequently deposit the money into the Florida bank account of a man named Oscar Hernandez Jr., who is not related to the now-former tight end.
Hernandez Jr. pleaded guilty in January in federal court to six counts related to allegations that he obtained guns for Aaron Hernandez and shipped them to the then-NFL star in a Toyota Camry. That car was discovered parked in the garage at Hernandez’s home after police launched the investigation into Lloyd’s June 17, 2013, murder.
Oscar Hernandez Jr. faces sentencing April 27 on three counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice, one count of witness tampering and one count of delivering weapons to a non-resident. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that Aaron 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 two associates, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace Jr., 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 – roughly an hour’s drive – 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. 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 fiancee.
One firearms charge alleges that he handled the murder weapon on the day of the killing, the other that he possessed .22-caliber ammunition that was discovered in his home during a police search.
The murder weapon has never been found.
Prosecutors allege that Oscar Hernandez shipped three weapons to Aaron Hernandez: two .22-caliber Jimenez pistols and a 7.62×39 mm Hungarian rifle. Hernandez was originally indicted on three charges related to the rifle, but Judge E. Susan Garsh separated those counts into a another case and the jury will not hear about them.
Additionally, Garsh ruled that information about the second Jimenez pistol, which was allegedly tossed under a car by Wallace after an incident at a Providence, R.I., nightclub, also will not be shared with the jury.
But jurors have heard plenty about the first Jimenez pistol, which was discovered two days after Lloyd’s killing along a road between the murder scene and Aaron Hernandez’s home.
Prosecutors suspect that it was with Hernandez, Ortiz and Wallace at the time of Lloyd’s death and then was subsequently tossed into the woods. Defense attorneys have repeatedly stressed that the gun appeared to be rusty, suggesting it had been there longer.
The actual weapon has been cleaned and has been shown in court several times.
Oscar Hernandez Jr.’s mother, Gladwyn Skeete-Hernandez, told jurors about the deposit of $15,000 into a bank account the two of them jointly held.
Lead prosecutor William McCauley asked her whether the $15,000 was hers.
“No, it was not my money,” Skeete-Hernandez said.
“Whose money was it?” McCauley asked.
“It was Oscar’s money,” she responded.
She detailed making two $5,000 cash withdrawals and handing the money to her son, then transferring money to a car dealership to cover the purchase of a new vehicle for him and the insurance necessary for it.
She also acknowledged at some point she received a credit card bill from an auto transportation company. Prosecutors contend that was how Oscar Hernandez Jr. shipped the guns to Aaron Hernandez – by having the Toyota Camry shipped from Florida to Massachusetts with the weapons inside.
Following Skeete-Hernandez to the witness stand was Heidi Lakatos, a clerk at a family-owned True Value Hardware store in Florida.
She detailed the April 16, 2013, purchase of the .22 pistol recovered by police by a man named Gion Jackson. After a closed-door hearing where Garsh signed an order granting him immunity, Jackson was called to the stand.
He acknowledged that he was friends with Oscar Hernandez Jr. and said he went to the hardware store to buy the gun for himself but ran into Hernandez Jr. there.
After buying the gun, he said, he locked it in the trunk of his Chevy. He later loaned the car to Oscar Hernandez Jr., he said, and never realized that the pistol he purchased had disappeared until he was visited by federal firearms agents after Lloyd’s killing.
Jurors also heard from a representative of a company that shipped the Toyota from Florida to Aaron Hernandez’s home.
Prosecutors, who have presented no evidence that Hernandez ever bought a Glock like the murder weapon, pointed out that Aaron Hernandez’s name wasn’t found on any of the documents related to the .22-caliber gun.
That gun could not be traced to Hernanadez, but it allegedly ended up in his hands.
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.
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.