Aaron Hernandez was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder in the late-night shooting of a man in a deserted industrial park — a verdict that completed a staggering fall for one of the NFL’s most promising stars.
He was sentenced to life without parole.
Hernandez, 25, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, appeared to shake his head slightly as the verdict was read. He was also convicted of gun charges in the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée.
When the verdict was read, Hernandez’s mother and fiancée gasped and cried. The jury, in Fall River, Massachusetts, had deliberated 36 hours over seven days.
Before the formal pronouncement of the sentence, the judge heard from Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, who remembered her son as the "backbone of the family."
The day she buried him, she said, "I felt my heart stop beating for a moment."
Speaking to reporters as a group, jurors said they were confident they had made the right call.
At the time of his arrest, Hernandez had just been awarded a $40 million contract with the Patriots, one of the most celebrated organizations in sports. In February, he was on trial while they won the Super Bowl without him.
One of the prosecution witnesses was Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots. He testified that Hernandez had personally assured him that he was innocent.
The case against Hernandez was another black eye for the NFL, which, despite its seemingly unstoppable popularity, was already dealing with a crisis over concussions and other criminal cases.
Legal experts said all along that the case was circumstantial, and that no clear motive was explained to the jury. Prosecutors did say that Hernandez appeared to be angry with Lloyd two nights earlier at a nightclub.
Hernandez faces a second trial later this year in Boston, where he is charged with shooting two men to death outside a nightclub. But the prosecutors in the Lloyd case were not allowed to tell the jury about it.
To make their case, they showed surveillance video at Hernandez’s home shortly before the shooting showed him holding what appeared to be a gun, and a joint near Lloyd’s body had Hernandez and Lloyd's DNA on it.
The murder weapon was not recovered. Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, testified that on the day after Lloyd was killed, Hernandez called her and asked her to remove a large box from their basement. She said she dropped it in a Dumpster but never looked inside.
Hernandez’s defense team conceded that he was there when Lloyd was killed, but they pinned the act itself on two friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz. Hernandez’s lawyer James Sultan described him as “a 23-year-old kid who witnessed a shocking killing” and didn’t know what to do.
Lloyd, 27, was a semipro football player and a landscaper. He was shot six times in the middle of the night, his body found in a park not far from Hernandez’s home.
Speaking during the sentencing phase, Lloyd’s sister, Olivia Thibou, choked back tears and recalled how close they were, calling or texting every day.
“At the age of 25, I was asked to write my brother’s eulogy, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “And I wrote it with a smile because I got to write all the great memories that I had of him.”
“It doesn’t feel like Odin’s not here,” she said. “It feels like just a bad dream.”