The trial of Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriots player has reached the time for the final score. The jury is deliberating for four days. The twelve jurors who are deciding his fate have requested the 400 plus exhibits and asked 6 questions since their deliberations began. Hernandez is on trial for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, a friend or acquaintance and weapons charges. After over 40 days, 400 plus exhibits and 135 witnesses, the mostly circumstantial murder case is finally in the hands of the jury to deliver a verdict.
The murder case against Hernandez is an entirely circumstantial one. The prosecution alleges that Hernandez, once worth $40 million for playing with the Patriots, drove the victim, Lloyd, to a an area and shot him six times. Prosecutors contend that evidence left at the scene such as Hernandez’s DNA left on a marijuana butt and .45 caliber shell casings found at the crime scene support their theory. The casings found at the scene and found in the rented car of Hernandez were allegedly shot from the same gun. The defense disputes the prosecution’s gun theory. And although motive is never an element in any criminal case, the prosecution does not have a motive for why Hernandez would kill Lloyd who was an acquaintance or friend. Hernandez denies any involvement. After the killing, he told Patriots owner Bob Kraft and coach Bill Belichick that he was not involved. The prosecution was dealt a blow to their case when Judge Garsh denied the use of a text from the victim which stated shortly before his death that he was with “nfl”—implying he was with Hernandez. The prosecution contends that Hernandez sent a text message to Lloyd before the murder. DNA evidence is what jurors see on TV shows but TV shows always strongly tie in the circumstantial evidence to the defendant. In reality, circumstantial cases and particularly circumstantial murder cases are difficult for a prosecutor to win. And they are even more difficult with a celebrity defendant such as Aaron Hernandez. When a jury is left with too many unanswered questions from a circumstantial case, it often proves fatal to the prosecution.
The prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. And any circumstantial case is always fraught with many problems for the prosecution. And a celebrity defendant presents further problems for the prosecution. But Boston area juries are thought to be more conservative than most might think. But deciding on whether a NFL player worth and making millions would commit murder of his friend will be in the minds of the jurors deciding the case. NFL players have been involved in serious cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, assaults, child abuse and obstruction of justice charges stemming from a murder. And of course, former NFL player O.J. Simpson, now serving time on robbery charges, was tried and acquitted in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Simpson’s case in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson was also a circumstantial case.
It is one thing having a gut feeling that someone committed a murder case and another to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And in the case of Hernandez, the prosecution has an uphill battle with a guilty verdict without indirectly giving the jurors a reasonable motive—other than Hernandez appeared angry when he left a night club where Lloyd was present.
Whether completely circumstantial evidence will be enough to convict Hernandez is the real issue. All twelve jurors must agree on a verdict. If they are unable to reach an unanimous verdict, the case will be a mistrial. And that’s what might happen and what the defense is hoping for. No matter what happens in this case, Hernandez still faces a double murder trial for a Boston area killing of two men in 2012. That trial will start later this year.
Debbie Hines is trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor who has tried circumstantial murder cases. She is frequently featured on Al Jazeera America, BET, C-Span, Fox 5 News, RT American and TV One, among other outlets.