BOSTON – Ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez, who is already serving a life sentence for 2013 murder, was acquitted Friday in a 2012 double slaying prosecutors said was fueled by his anger over a spilled drink.
Hernandez, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu, two immigrants from Cape Verde who crossed paths with Hernandez briefly on July 16, 2012. He was also charged with witness intimidation and accused of shooting his former best friend, Alexander Bradley in the face seven months later in what prosecutors say was an attempt to silence him as a witness to the earlier shootings.
The jury in the case deliberated for about 32 hours over five days.
Hernandez wept quietly as the verdicts were read in Boston. Relatives of the victims sobbed loudly.
The jury found Hernandez not guilty of first-degree murder in the killings of de Abreu and Furtado. It convicted him of a single charge: unlawful possession of a gun. The judge sentenced him to an additional four to five years in prison, separate from his existing life sentence, for that conviction.
Prosecutors said Hernandez opened fire on their car because he felt disrespected when one of the men bumped into him and spilled his drink at a Boston nightclub.
The defense team pointed the finger at Alexander Bradley, a close friend of Hernandez who was with him the night of the shootings.
Hernandez was also acquitted Friday of shooting Bradley in the face months later to try to silence him as a witness.
Hernandez, 27, is already serving a life sentence for the 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee.
Bradley claimed Hernandez became enraged after de Abreu bumped into him while dancing, spilling his drink. He said Hernandez later opened fire on the men’s car as they waited at a stoplight.
Bradley also said Hernandez shot him in the face months later after he made a remark about the earlier shootings. Bradley lost his right eye in the shooting.
Hernandez’s lawyers said it was Bradley - an admitted drug dealer who is serving a five-year sentence for shooting up a Hartford bar in 2014 - who shot the men over a drug deal. The defense hammered at Bradley’s credibility, citing his immunity deal with prosecutors to testify against Hernandez, his role as the driver of the car the night of the shootings and his criminal record.
Hernandez grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, and played for the Patriots from 2010 to 2012. About six weeks after Furtado and de Abreu were killed, Hernandez signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Patriots and went on to play another season before Lloyd was killed. He was cut from the team shortly after he was arrested in Lloyd’s death in June 2013. He was not charged in the 2012 killings until 2014.
Hernandez’s lawyer, Jose Baez, told the jury that the real killer is Bradley, the prosecution’s star witness. Baez called Bradley a “liar, “perjurer” and “parasite” who got the “deal of a lifetime” from prosecutors after he named Hernandez as the shooter.
Baez, who gained fame when he won an acquittal for Casey Anthony in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, said Bradley’s testimony was “riddled with lies,” but prosecutors stuck with him as their star witness because they wanted to convict an NFL player.
Baez was not in the courtroom when the verdicts were read. CBS affiliate WBZ reported that he was attending to a medical issue.
Hernandez attorney Ronald Sullivan said that his client broke down in tears after hearing the verdict.
“He was charged with something someone else did and that is a weighty burden for anyone to shoulder,” said Sullivan, who called Hernandez a “beautiful man, happy-go-lucky.”
“Clearly what won the case was the absolute dearth of evidence that connected Mr. Hernandez to any of these shootings,” said Sullivan. “We hope that the public sees Aaron Hernandez as who he is: a really good young man who happened to hang out with a really bad guy.”