Aaron Hernandez: Life in the Fast Lane

Jul 29, 2013 - by Denise Noe - 0 Comments

Aaron Hernandez

Back in 2010, the button-downed New England Patriots discounted the scouting reports that said Aaron Hernandez scored at the bottom of the “social maturity” scale. In 2012, still smitten, the Patriots added $40 million to his contract. On the day Hernandez was arrested for the gangland style murder of Odin Lloyd, the Patriots pre-empted the justice process and disowned him. 

by Denise Noe

Not long after a jogger discovered a bullet-ridden corpse in an industrial park in North Attleborough, Massachusetts at about 5:30 p.m. on June 17, 2013, the often troubled life of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, a handsome and athletically gifted young man who only a year before had been given a $40 million contract extension, began tumbling down.

The murder victim was 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player and a friend of Hernandez who had been dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins. The secluded industrial park where the gangland style execution took place in the early morning hours, was a half mile from Hernandez’s luxurious home. Inside one of Llyod’s pockets were the keys to a Nissan Altima rental car that turned out to be registered to Hernandez. Lloyd’s sister, Olivia Thibou, told detectives she had been visiting her brother on June 16 and had seen him get into a Nissan. 

Five hours after Lloyd’s body had been found, police arrived at Hernandez house to notify him of Lloyd’s death and to ask about the Nissan he had apparently rented for his friend. According to court documents released on July 9 by the Attleboro District Court at the request of various media organizations, Hernandez immediately became defensive and asked, “What’s with all the questions?” When asked when he had last seen Lloyd, Hernandez said he had been “up this way” the night before and if they had other questions they would need to speak with his attorney. According the court records, Hernandez then went back inside, slamming and locking the door only to emerge minutes later to hand police his lawyer’s business card.

Police then informed Hernandez that “this is a death investigation,” information that did not cause Hernandez to inquire who had died, only to retreat back into his house and slam and lock the door again. In a written statement of the encounter with Hernandez at his house, the police report stated, “Mr. Hernandez’s demeanor did not indicate any concern for the death of any person.”

A Massachusetts Medical Examiner ruled Lloyd’s death a homicide on June 19. He had been shot five times with a .45 caliber pistol. The murder weapon has not been recovered. Police were able to pin the time of death down to between 3-3:30 a.m. A worker at the industrial park was taking his regular nightly break during that time period when he said he heard three gunshots and a car door slam.

After consulting with his attorney, Michael Fee, Hernandez agreed to be interviewed further at the police station the next day and to allow police to search his house without a search warrant.

In searching his house, police found that the home’s internal security system had been damaged. When they requested his cellphone, Hernandez’s attorney turned it over in pieces. It also became known that Hernandez had hired a house-cleaning service only hours before the jogger discovered Lloyd’s body. When the police told reporters the next day that they had not ruled Hernandez out as a suspect in Lloyd’s murder, news helicopters began shadowing the sure-handed, highly tattooed tight end.

The walls were closing in on the former college All-America and NFL All Pro.  

As a result of the cloud over their star receiver, the Patriots asked him to avoid the team’s facilities. On that same day, CytoSport, manufacturer of Muscle Milk and other supplements for athletes or aspiring athletes, announced it was terminating its endorsement contract with Hernandez.

With a search warrant this time, detectives with specially trained search dogs entered the Hernandez home on June 22. They gathered and left with big bags filled with possible evidence. They also removed a safe that contained a scale and a plate, items frequently used by drug dealers.

At 8:45 a.m. on June 26, officers arrested Hernandez outside his home. Handcuffed, the soon-to-be former Patriot was taken in a police cruiser to a station and booked. At 2:45 p.m., Hernandez was formally charged in court with first-degree murder. He was also charged with five counts of illegal possession of firearms.

On the day of his arrest, but before any formal charges had been filed, the Patriots released him. In a news release the Patriots stated, “A young man was murdered last week, and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do.”

The Patriots, an organization that prides itself on being more than just a cut above other National Football League franchises in terms of class and character, does not apparently subscribe to the notion that someone is innocent until proven guilty. It underscored this sentiment by taking the unprecedented step of offering to allow any fan who had purchased Hernandez’s jersey to redeem it for another Patriot jersey. During the weekend the offer was good, hundreds of fans lined up to rid themselves of jersey No. 81. 

The Arraignment

At Hernandez’s arraignment the afternoon of his arrest, with various national cable stations streaming the proceedings, Bristol County Assistant D.A. William McCauley told the district court that investigators had viewed surveillance camera videos that tracked Hernandez from his home in North Attleborough to Boston and back. They had also traced cellphone pings and text messages that provided a tight timeline that directly linked Hernandez to Lloyd’s murder. In addition, McCauley said there was evidence left in the Nissan rental car and collected in two searches of Hernandez’s house and surrounding areas that placed Hernandez with Lloyd for roughly an hour the morning he was killed, “right up to the minute Lloyd was executed.”

As McCauley presented the evidence against him in a packed courtroom, Hernandez, handcuffed, stood expressionless in a white t-shirt, his heavily tattooed arms visible. McCauley told District Court Judge Daniel J. O’Shea that Hernandez “drove the victim to that remote spot, and then he orchestrated” the murder.

McCauley said that Hernandez had texted two other men that night who were also involved in the murder. McCauley said their names had not yet been released. The prosecutor’s office had protected them from public identification by persuading a judge to impound records and McCauley did not say whether or not they would be charged. McCauley did not specify who actually pulled the trigger. However, the criminal complaint alleges that Hernandez “did assault and beat” Lloyd “with intent to murder such person, and by assault and beating did kill and murder such person.”

The prosecutor stated that the plot to murder might have started on June 14 when Lloyd and Hernandez visited a Boston nightclub. McCauley said Hernandez decided to murder his friend when he saw Lloyd talking with people Hernandez “had troubles with.” McCauley did not elaborate about what those “troubles” were and why merely conversing with those people would lead Hernandez to decide to kill Lloyd.

McCauley asserted that on June 16, Hernandez texted the other two men who met up with Hernandez. The three drove to Lloyd’s home and picked him up in front of his visiting sister, Olivia Thibou.

McCauley suggested Lloyd might have feared something ominous was in store judging from texts he sent his sister just before he got into the car with the trio. Lloyd text messaged his sister, “Did you see who I left with?” Thibou asked, “Who?” Lloyd texted, “NFL. Just so you know.”

According to McCauley, detectives tracked the rental car’s movements to a gas station, to Lloyd’s house, and then to the empty lot in the industrial park where Lloyd was slain. At the gas station, Hernandez purchased gum and that gum was found in the car. Forty-five caliber shell casings were also discovered in that vehicle. The prosecutor claimed that surveillance videos in the industrial park show the four men arriving in the rented Nissan. McCauley said night workers in the vicinity recall hearing gunshots between 3:23 a.m. and 3:27 a.m.

McCauley said surveillance video at Hernandez’s home shows him going through the house with a gun in his hand. When McCauley related this, Lloyd’s mother started weeping. Someone helped her out of the courtroom. Hernandez’s fiancée, with whom he has a 7-month-old daughter, also started crying and exited the courtroom. McCauley continued that surveillance footage from the six to eight hours after the murder was missing from Hernandez’s home security system and that the two weapons seen on the video have not been recovered.

Hernandez pled not guilty to all charges. Massachusetts has no death penalty. The maximum penalty for first-degree murder is life without possibility of parole.

Judge Daniel J. O’Shea ordered Hernandez held without bail. It could be months, perhaps more than a year, before Hernandez comes to trial. As of this writing, Hernandez’s next court date in connection with the Lloyd murder is a probable cause hearing scheduled for August 22, 2013.

Following the arraignment, Michael Fee, Hernandez’s attorney, described the prosecution case as “circumstantial” and “not strong.” Reporting for USA Today, Lindsay H. Jones wrote, “Hernandez is also represented by James Sultan and his partner Charles Rankin, who have a long track record of serving as defense attorneys in high-profile cases and for famous clients.” Rankin said Hernandez would be "exonerated" on the murder charge when he finally gets a chance to answer the accussations and that "a jury of his peers will find that he's not guilty and had no part in the killing of Odin Lloyd."

On June 27, 2013, a new hearing was held for Hernandez on the bail issue. Attorney James Sulton argued that Hernandez is a professional with a stable home life and should not be regarded as a flight risk. Sulton asserted, “Mr. Hernandez is not just a football player but is one of the best football players in the United States of America.” Sulton suggested house arrest and an electronic monitoring bracelet as possibilities.

Superior Court Judge Renee Dupuis denied bail. She observed, “He also has the means to flee and a bracelet just wouldn’t keep him here nor would $250,000.”

The Arrest of Ortiz and Wallace

From two sets of court documents obtained – one set by the Associated Press and the other by USA Today – in early July, the two men Hernandez summoned by text to accompany him to Llyod’s house in Boston the night of June 16 were Carlos Ortiz, 27, and Ernest Wallace, 41, friends of his from his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut. The documents reveal that surveillance video shows three men, who appear to be Hernandez, Wallace and Ortiz, leaving Hernandez’s home in a silver Nissan Altima at about 1:09 a.m. on June 17. The car is seen returning to Hernandez’s home at 3:26 a.m. with Hernandez at the wheel. Surveillance video from a camera at a home across the street from Lloyd’s house on Fayston Street in Boston show Lloyd getting into a silver Nissan at 2:33 a.m.

On June 26, 2013, Carlos Ortiz was arrested as a fugitive from justice; he was extradited from Connecticut to Massachusetts and he agreed to be held without bail on a gun charge.Wallace, of Miramar, Florida, was arraigned in North Attleboro District Court on July 8 and charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact in Lloyd’s case. His bond was set at $500,000.

In the court documents obtained by the AP, Ortiz told police that after the three of them picked up Lloyd at his home, they drove toward Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough, stopping at an industrial park not far from Hernandez’s home where Lloyd, Wallace and Hernandez got out of the car to urinate. As he sat in the car, Ortiz said he heard gunshots; not long after that Wallace and Hernandez got back in the car and sped away.

Ortiz also informed police that it was too dark for him to see who fired the shots but that Wallace later told him Hernandez fired the shots that killed Lloyd. He said that when they returned to Hernandez’s home, Wallace asked him to get a gun from under the driver’s seat. Ortiz said he handed the gun to Hernandez once they were inside the house. After spending the night at Hernandez’s house, Ortiz said he and Wallace accompanied Hernandez to return the Nissan. Hernandez rented a Chrysler to replace it. Ortiz and Wallace then went to the apartment that Hernandez and other football players used as a “flop house.” On their way back to Bristol later that day is when Wallace told him Hernandez had been the one to shoot Lloyd, Ortiz told the police.

It was Ortiz’s trip to the apartment in Franklin that led police to his door. While there his cellphone slipped between sofa cushions and was found while police were executing a warrant to search the apartment.

While searching the Franklin apartment, police also found several boxes of ammunition. Out in the parking lot, in a Hummer registered to Hernandez, police said they found a loaded .45 caliber Glock magazine in the console.

In addition, the court documents state that Massachusetts State Police ballistic experts determined that the five .45 caliber casings found near Lloyd’s body and the casings found in the Nissan rented by Hernandez were fired from the same handgun.

The release of such detailed court records casts an usually full light on the state’s case against Hernandez in the murder of Odin Lloyd. Normally, such detail would not be provided until a probable cause hearing and even then only in outline form. As the damning information in the court records circulates – particularly Ortiz’s account of Hernandez being the shooter of Lloyd – the chances of Hernandez getting a fair trial are under assault. The potential jury pool is being provided information that in every way points to Hernandez’s guilt before the jury is even empanelled. And as a national figure, the negative information about his guilt is being disseminated throughout the United States.

The University of Florida’s action toward Hernandez – like those of the New England Patriots – are indicative of the extreme bias Hernandez is up against as he sits in a segregated cell without the possibility of equal access to the media to tell his side of the story. On July 25, a spokesperson for the university announced a plan to excise any acknowledgement of Hernandez on the Gainesville campus. A statement issued by the university read, “We put together an immediate plan after the initial news broke to remove his [Hernandez’s] likeness and name in various private and public areas in the facility, such as the south end zone team area, locker room, football offices, Heavener Complex Kornblau Lobby and the brick display entrance to the football facility.” The brick display honors Florida players who won All-America awards.

Other Murders May Be Linked to Hernandez

In the immediate aftermath of news about Hernandez’s alleged role in Lloyd’s death, two other shooting incidents that might be tied to Hernandez surfaced.

Police are investigating Hernandez’s possible involvement in an unsolved July 2012 Boston double homicide. CNN.com reported that a source stated, “The Boston Police Department has located and impounded a silver SUV with Rhode Island registration that police have been trying to find for almost a year, which is linked to the scene of the double homicide.”

The source indicated that detectives believe Hernandez was renting that SUV at the time of the double homicide.

A CBS News article gives more specifics about the unsolved Boston crimes, stating, “The double homicide occurred in the early morning hours of July 16, 2012, in Boston’s South End. Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Teixeira Furtado, 28, two Cape Verdean immigrants who lived in Dorchester, were killed when someone fired at the BMW they were in. A third person was wounded. At the time, police said there were two other people in the vehicle, but both ran off before officers arrived.”

Sources indicate it is possible the Boston homicides are linked to the Lloyd slaying because Lloyd – who also lived in Dorchester – may have had information about Hernandez’s possible involvement in the previous case. A law enforcement official told the Boston Globe: “The case against Hernandez is strengthening” in the unsolved double-homicide matter. A grand jury is investigating Hernandez’s possible involvement in the double-homicide.

Another Shooting Brings a Civil Suit against Hernandez

In addition, Hernandez may face a lawsuit in a shooting case believed to be unrelated to either of the aforementioned murder cases. Four days before Lloyd’s death, a Connecticut man, Alexander S. Bradley, 30, filed a civil lawsuit in Florida contending that Hernandez shot him in the face in February 2013 while the two were in a vehicle after a night of partying at a Miami strip club called Tootsie’s Cabaret. Bradley’s attorneys say the bullet hit him in the arm and traveled until it struck his face and blew out an eyeball. The lawsuit seeks more than $100,000 in damages. The lawsuit was dismissed because paperwork was incorrectly filed. One of Bradley’s attorneys, David Jaroslawicz, states he does not “know why” no criminal charges were filed in the case but asserts that the civil lawsuit will be re-filed.

Police reports show that Bradley was found bleeding outside a John Deere store in Riviera Beach, Florida on the morning of February 13, 2013. The store’s manager said Bradley asked him to call 911, begging, “Tell them to hurry! I’m gonna bleed out.” The manager asked Bradley who shot him and the wounded man replied, “I’m done talking – it hurts too bad.”

Emergency responders found that Bradley was “rude” and refused to cooperate in describing how he had been wounded. Police say Bradley did not name the shooter or shooters but described “both Hispanic and black males” as having been part of the attack.

Hernandez’s Background

The brutal murder of Odin Lloyd and Hernandez’s possible involvement in it inevitably focused media attention on Hernandez’s background. He was born on November 6, 1989. His father, Dennis, was of Puerto Rican heritage; his mother, Terri, of Italian ethnicity. Aaron showed athletic promise early. By the eighth grade he was able to dunk a basketball.  

Aaron apparently inherited his considerable athletic talent from his father. USA Today reports, “As a prep star in Bristol, Conn., in the 1970s, Dennis Hernandez was nicknamed ‘The King.’ Generous and gregarious, he seemingly touched everyone he met.” Hernandez’s mother told USA Today that watching “his sons play sports was Dennis’s greatest joy.”

The major trauma of Hernandez’s youth occurred when his father died unexpectedly following routine hernia surgery. Aaron, then 16, had been especially close to his father and was devastated. His brother D.J, who is three years older, recalled Aaron’s grief when their father died: “It was tough. It was difficult for him.” He also said of Aaron, “He was just lost.”

D. J., who attended the University of Connecticut and starred on the football team as a quarterback and wide receiver, tried to become a surrogate father to Aaron. Aaron recalled, “I just followed my brother’s footsteps. I just tried to follow his work ethic because he did everything the right way. He was always successful.”

“It was a rough process, and I didn’t know what to do for him,” his mother said. “He would rebel. It was very, very hard and he was very, very angry. He wasn’t the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad – there was so much anger.”

Even though Hernandez began hanging around with a crowd of rough young men in Bristol, he continued to shine on the football field. As a junior at Bristol Central High School, he set a state record with 1,799 receiving yards. In his senior year in 2006, he scored 17 touchdowns and was named first team tight end on USA Today Sports’ All-USA team.  

Prior to his father’s death, Hernandez planned to attend the University of Connecticut, the alma mater of both his father and brother. After his father’s death, he decided to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville.

He was still 17 and in his freshman year when he was arrested for a fistfight with a bar bouncer. Charged as a juvenile, he received “deferred prosecution” which allowed the charges to be dropped.

Hernandez kept up the athletic achievement in college. He was a star tight end for the Florida Gators. Coach Urban Meyer sensed that the gifted athlete was troubled so Meyer took Hernandez under his wing. Early each morning, Hernandez would visit Meyer’s office. The two read the Bible together. They met once at noon in February when Hernandez was especially upset. Meyer remembered how haunted Hernandez was by the irreplaceable loss of the father to whom he had been so close. “When your guy, your idol, your soul is taken from you, how do you deal with that?” Meyer asks. “I think there’s a part of his life that was not there. He needed discipline. He needed someone to talk to.”

Nevertheless, Hernandez was suspended for the opening game of the 2008 season as punishment for testing positive for marijuana.

A grateful Hernandez recalled about college coach Meyer, “He helped me through a lot of that stuff. I would have horrible days and he taught me to put things aside and work through it.”

His mother believed a corner had been turned when Hernandez was 20. “He’s my Aaron again,” she said. “Just now everything’s getting better and it took him three years. I thought I lost him for good. He wasn’t the same kid. Now he’s back, the same fun loving Aaron.” With Tim Tebow at quarterback, Florida won the national championship in 2008. In the title game against Oklahoma, Hernandez caught five passes for 57 yards in the Gators’ 24-14 win. In 2009, Hernandez’s junior year, he caught 68 passes and won the Mackey Award as college’s football’s top tight end. He then declared for the 2010 NFL draft.

In 2010, Hernandez was selected in the fourth round of NFL draft, rather than the first, due to concerns about his marijuana use and character. The Boston Globe reported that Hernandez had failed multiple drug tests, maybe as many as six, while at the University of Florida.

In a July 3, 2013 article for WSJ.com, Jonathan Clegg reports, “Shortly before the 2012 NFL draft, a scouting service that prepares confidential psychological profiles of players for NFL teams found that Aaron Hernandez enjoyed ‘living on the edge of acceptable behavior’ and cautioned that he could become ‘a problem’ for his team.” Clegg elaborates that, on a personality test, Hernandez “received the lowest possible score, 1 out of 10, in the category of ‘social maturity.’”

The official NFL profile page praised Hernandez as “a savvy pass catcher with outstanding athleticism.” It elaborated, “He has natural hand-eye coordination and consistently reaches out to pluck the ball.” It also remarked, “Hernandez has impressive speed and athleticism” and that he possesses “very natural ball skills, catches away from his body, can bring in off-target throws and can go up for the jump ball.”

In his first year as a pro with the Patriots, Hernandez started out as the youngest active player in the NFL. He became Rookie of the Week during the season’s 15th week. D.J. Hernandez commented, “He would have made his father proud.”

Aaron Hernandez’s love and respect for his dead father was reflected in the tattoos on both of his muscular arms. One of his father’s favorite sayings is on his left forearm: If it is to be, it is up to me. Another fatherly quote on the tight end’s arm is: The difference between the impossible and the possible lies on a person’s determination.

In 2012, the Patriots offered Hernandez a long-term contract extension that would pay him and additional $40 million through 2018. It included a $12.5 million signing bonus – the highest ever for a tight end. At a news conference announcing the offer, Hernandez wept with joy and gratitude. He immediately donated $50,000 to the Myra Kraft Foundation, a charity founded to honor the late wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Myra Kraft died of cancer in 2011.

That contract, but not the signing bonus, was reduced to dust when the Patriots released Hernandez after his arrest.

 

Bibliography

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