Aaron Hernandez trial analysis: How will jurors interpret Robert Kraft’s testimony?
It took nine weeks, 37 days in court and 124 witnesses, but the Aaron Hernandez murder case finally dragged the New England Patriots front and center.
Team owner Robert Kraft, the silver-haired owner of a team that is renowned for both its success on the field and its control of all things off the field, stepped into the courtroom Tuesday and saw Hernandez for the first time since he had confronted him two days after Odin Lloyd’s death in June 2013.
Kraft was followed to the stand by Mark Briggs, the former British military officer who has been the Patriots’ security head for 15 years.
And the testimony of both Kraft and Briggs provided both openings for the prosecution and counterpoints for the defense.
It was a stunning scene for the leaders of an organization who work very hard to control how it is viewed publicly – control that was tested almost immediately after a jogger discovered Lloyd’s bullet-riddled body June 17, 2013, in a secluded field less than a mile from Hernandez’s home.
Hernandez, then the star tight end for the Patriots, was implicated quickly – the first detectives at the scene found keys to a sport-utility vehicle in Lloyd’s pocket, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car records showed that Hernandez had rented the vehicle. Hernandez’s arrest nine days after Lloyd’s murder was the beginning of a story that’s now been unfolding for nearly two years – jury selection alone took nearly three weeks, and opening statements were held Jan. 29. The prosecution is expected to rest its case this week, and then it’s the defense’s turn.
Prosecutors have asserted that Hernandez grew angry with Lloyd after an incident at a Boston nightclub early the morning of June 15, 2013. They have alleged that late the next evening, he 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 later that night.
They have further alleged that 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.
Tuesday began tediously. An FBI agent who analyzed cell phone transmission data for all the various players – Hernandez, Ortiz, Wallace, Lloyd and Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins – and correlated that to transmission towers went first. The detailed testimony was aimed at helping jurors visualize the movements of the key players.
Then lead prosecutor William McCauley stood and called Kraft to the stand. Hernandez pivoted in his seat and looked back, waiting to see the man who signed his paychecks totaling at least $11.2 million during his three years in the NFL.
The standard opening questions for all witnesses are the same. What is your name? Please spell your name. Do you work? What do you do?
Kraft answered those with levity.
“I work at 1 Patriots place,” he said.
“What do you do for work?” lead prosecutor William McCauley asked.
“Whatever they ask me to,” Kraft answered.
But the conversation quickly turned deadly serious.
Kraft, his voice graveled by a cold, recalled arriving at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots’ home, on the morning of June 19. By then, the investigation of Lloyd’s death was 36 hours old, and Hernandez was already at the center of a media firestorm. When he got to the stadium, satellite trucks lined the road and media helicopters clattered overhead.
Kraft described heading to the team’s weight room, where he saw Hernandez with two strength coaches. He asked to speak privately to Hernandez, and they went into an office, Kraft said.
Then he described their conversation.
“I understood there was an incident that had transpired, and I wanted to know whether he was involved, and if he was, and any player that comes into our team I consider part of our extended family, and I wanted to get him help,” Kraft said. “He said he was not involved, that he was innocent, and that he hoped the time of the murder incident came out because I believe he said he was in a club.”
McCauley bored in on that – the idea that Hernandez knew what time Lloyd had been killed, and that he had an alibi, asking Kraft to further describe the conversation.
“My recollection is that he said that he hoped the time of the event came out because he was in a club,” Kraft said. “I thought he had said Providence, but I’m not 100 percent sure of that, but he was at a club.”
They spoke for five or 10 minutes.
“He hugged and kissed me and thanked me for my concern,” Kraft said.
Defense attorney Michael Fee used Kraft to drive home to the jury that Hernandez was a very good football player – first in college, where he was on a University of Florida team that won a national championship in 2009, and then with the Patriots.
Fee walked Kraft through Hernandez’s rookie season, to his second year, when the Patriots went to the Super Bowl, and to the summer of 2012, when the team signed him to a long-term contract that could have been worth $40 million.
And he asked about Hernandez’s “special greeting.”
“He would always hug and kiss me,” Kraft said.
He also got Kraft to say that he had never had a problem with Hernandez.
The point of all that: Kraft had invested plenty in Hernandez, and had no reason to think he was making a mistake.
The testimony of Briggs, the security chief, tracked closely with Kraft’s.
Briggs described meeting with Hernandez at the team’s complex, apparently on the same day Kraft spoke with him, although there was some confusion about the exact date.
“I asked him if he was involved in the incident,” Briggs recalled.
Hernandez, he testified, said, “No.”
Briggs said he also “asked him why he’d lawyered up.”
That brought testimony to a halt while Judge E. Susan Garsh consulted with the attorneys privately. She then returned and told the jury they could draw no inference from that question: “The right to counsel, the right to consult with an attorney, is secured under state and federal constitution. It’s a sacred right, and there’s absolutely no obligation on the part of anyone, any citizen in this country, to ever speak with the police or ever in any way be part of or assist in any investigation that is being taken, and anyone has the right to consult with or speak with an attorney at any time.”
Briggs went on to testify that Hernandez told him he’d been out at a club with Lloyd but that they’d gone their separate ways. At that point, Briggs said, Hernandez told him he’d given Lloyd keys to a rental car to use.
And Hernandez told him the keys were the reason his name was brought up in the investigation.
Briggs also said Hernandez told him he was telling the truth.
He swore on his baby’s life that he was telling the truth.
Mark Briggs, head of Patriots security
“Did he swear on something?” McCauley asked.
“He swore on his baby’s life that he was telling the truth,” Briggs said.
Briggs described seeing Hernandez at the Patriots’ stadium the following day. That time, he asked the player to leave – something he acknowledged to Hernandez’s attorneys that was done because his presence was bad for business.
Even then, Fee, the defense attorney, suggested Hernandez was cooperative, shook Briggs’ hand, didn’t protest or linger.
As with much in this case, in the end it will be up to the jurors to consider what it all means.
Will they wonder how Aaron Hernandez, if he’s innocent, could have had any idea what time Odin Lloyd was killed? Will they wonder whether he was, as Kraft described, a good player who acted respectfully or whether he could also have been a killer? Will they wonder how a man who had a long-term contract that could have paid him $40 million could plan and carry out a brutal killing? Will they wonder whether the conversations with Kraft and Briggs were part of an elaborate scheme by Hernandez to create an alibi after the killing?
And despite the judge’s admonition, will they wonder why he got a lawyer?
Hernandez faces one count of murder and two firearms charges in the slaying of Lloyd. Ortiz and Wallace have also 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, only that he was involved in the slaying in a material way and that he 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. That trial, currently set to begin May 28, is expected to be pushed back until sometime later this year or to early 2016.