FALL RIVER, Mass. - Aaron Hernandez, who once dominated the football field as a star tight end for the New England Patriots, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Odin Lloyd, the boyfriend of his fiancée's sister, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
A 12-person jury reached the verdict Wednesday, on the seventh day of deliberations. The trial spanned more than two months and saw 135 witnesses - 132 of which were called by the prosecution.
Hernandez was also found guilty of illegal possession of a firearm and illegal possession of ammunition.
Hernandez's fiancee and mother gasped and sobbed as the verdict was read. Lloyd's mother also cried. Hernandez appeared emotionless. At one point, the former NFL star shook his head and appeared to mouth the words, "You're wrong" in the direction of the jury. He also mouthed to his mother and fiancee: "Be strong. Be strong."
Shortly after the verdict was delivered, Hernandez was sentenced by Judge Susan Garsh. Prior to Garsh handing down the automatic sentence of life in prison without parole, members of Lloyd's family gave victim impact statements to the court.
Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward, spoke first, saying her only son Odin was the "best gift I ever received."
"The day I laid my son Odin to rest, I felt my heart stop beating for a moment," she said.
Lloyd's uncle, sister and cousin also spoke.
The 25-year-old Hernandez had a $40 million contract with the Patriots when he was arrested and charged on June 26, 2013 in the death of Lloyd, a semi-pro football player who was found shot to death on June 17, 2013 in an industrial park near Hernandez's North Attleborough home. Hernandez was 23 at the time.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors argued the former pro-athlete orchestrated the murder of Lloyd and facilitated a cover-up, while the defense contended Hernandez was "targeted" by authorities because of his celebrity status and that the investigation was "sloppy" and "unprofessional."
The defense argued Hernandez had no motive to kill Lloyd - who they described as Hernandez's friend and future brother-in-law. Instead, they pinned the killing on Hernandez's co-defendants, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz.
Ortiz and Wallace have pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the case and will be tried separately.
During closing arguments, Hernandez's defense attorney James Sultan acknowledged for the first time that Hernandez was present when Lloyd was killed, but said Hernandez was just a kid who didn't know how to react.
"He was a 23-year-old kid who witnessed a shocking killing, committed by someone he knew. He didn't know what to do, so he just put one foot in front of the other," Sultan said.
But during the prosecution's closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney William McCauley urged jurors to convict Hernandez and pointed to the defendant's behavior after the crime, which McCauley said illustrated his guilt.
The prosecutor said Hernandez hung out with his two co-defendants after Lloyd's murder and later helped them flee.
During the course of the more than 2-month-long trial, the prosecution submitted hundreds of pieces of evidence, including video surveillance, cell phone records and receipts, in an effort to show Hernandez was with Lloyd the night he was murdered. They also repeatedly referred to surveillance images from inside Hernandez's home on the night of the murder that show Hernandez holding a black object that prosecutors contend was a gun.
The defense, however, called into question whether it really was a gun that Hernandez was seen holding. Instead, they aimed to suggest it was an iPad, TV remote or video game controller.
Prosecutors have said Hernandez and his two co-defendants used a rental car to pick Lloyd up at his home in Boston just after 2:30 a.m. on the day of the murder and took him to the industrial park where he was shot six times and left for dead.
The prosecution called more than 100 witnesses - some of whom testified about tire tracks and shoe prints near Lloyd's body that they say connect Hernandez to the crime, as well as a marijuana joint found at the murder scene that had both Hernandez's and Lloyd's DNA on it.
The prosecution also called witnesses who testified about shell casings found near Lloyd's body and another found in a car rented by Hernandez. Testimony indicated that all of the shell casings were fired by the same firearm.
Also called to testify by the prosecution were Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots; Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez's fiancee; and Alexander Bradley, a former friend of Hernandez who has a lawsuit pending against the ex-NFLer alleging he shot Bradley in the face in Florida in 2013.
Hernandez's defense team presented their case in just a day and called only three witnesses. A doctor testified on their behalf about the drug PCP and said it can cause people to be suddenly violent, even days after smoking it.
Hernandez's cousin had testified earlier that Hernandez's co-defendants were smoking what she thought was PCP just days before Lloyd was killed.
The defense's two other witnesses testified about DNA found on a shell casing inside a car Hernandez rented, which prosecutors have said the ex-NFL star used to drive Lloyd to his death. Hernandez's DNA was found on the shell casing, but the defense argued it got there from bubble gum that was found stuck to it.
After Hernandez was sentenced Wednesday, members of the jury spoke to the media and said the case against Hernandez was compelling. They said they did not buy the PCP defense and while they would not discuss what went on during deliberations, they said it was an emotional and stressful experience but they feel they reached the right conclusion.
"I think we will all remember it for the rest of our lives. It will definitely be a part of us," one said.
Hernandez also faces another trial in which he is charged with two counts of murder stemming from a 2012 double homicide, but the jury hearing the Lloyd case was not permitted to know about that. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Members of the jury said Wednesday that Judge Garsh told them about the 2012 murders after Hernandez was sentenced. The jurors said the judge also told them about the lawsuit Hernandez faces alleging he shot Alexander Bradley in the face. They said that after learning that information, they are even more confident they made the right decision in convicting him.
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn and prosecutor William McCauley also spoke to the media after Hernandez's sentencing. Both thanked the jury for the verdict and commended Lloyd's family for trusting in the trial process.
"The jury found that he was just a man who committed a brutal murder," Quinn said. "The fact that he was a professional athlete meant nothing in the end."
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