After six days of deliberations, the jury last week found Aaron Hernandez not guilty of first-degree murder in the killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.
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Convicted murderers do not do end zone dances, so Aaron Hernandez merely nodded and cried as the jury foreperson declared him not guilty of killing two strangers, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, in 2012 like he later killed his friend Odin Lloyd in 2013. Soon enough, Hernandez was led out of the Boston courtroom by a battery of armed officers and transported back to a prison sentence covering the rest of his life.
A dozen of Hernandez’s peers had decided the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had not made its case against the former New England Patriots tight end, and shortly after the verdict was announced, Hernandez’s lead attorney, Jose Baez, told ESPN.com he wished the disgraced NFL star had hired him for the Lloyd trial. In lobbying for a signature role in the appeal of the Lloyd conviction, Baez said if Hernandez “wants to hire me for that one, I’d be honored to represent him.”
As a football player, Hernandez caught a couple of breaks in the form of Urban Meyer, among the finest college coaches of his generation, and Bill Belichick, arguably the finest NFL coach of any generation. They both knew how to develop Hernandez, how to maximize his staggering athletic skills, and in turn Hernandez helped Meyer’s Florida Gators win a BCS title game and helped Belichick’s Patriots advance to a Super Bowl. Perhaps Meyer and Belichick reminisced a bit on the day before the Good Friday verdict, when the Patriots coach spoke at his good friend’s clinic at Ohio State, Meyer’s current school.
As a defendant, Hernandez caught another break in the form of Baez, whose Twitter account and website bill him in big, capital letters as “One of the greatest trial lawyers of all time,” a quote attributed to Geraldo Rivera. Baez had built his reputation around the 2011 acquittal of Casey Anthony, who had been charged with the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, and yet he said by phone he regarded the Hernandez case as the tougher one to win.
“I never represented somebody who was already convicted of murder, facing a double-murder charge,” Baez said. “And everybody knew [Hernandez] was convicted of murder. Every member who sat on that jury knew of the Odin Lloyd case. … We were so far behind coming out of the gate, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to make up for that.”
Baez denied that the spectacle of a sensational trial tethered to a sports dynasty inspired him to represent Hernandez, and he rattled off a series of murder cases he had handled that involved relatively anonymous defendants. But much like Meyer and Belichick before him, Baez overlooked Hernandez’s considerable flaws because he saw potential. He saw star power.
More than anything, he saw victory.
The scene inside Courtroom 906
It’s the strangest thing sitting inside a murder trial and observing how the defense and prosecution interact around the accused. Over a couple of days in late March inside Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court, Patrick Haggan, first assistant district attorney, talked with the attorneys sitting on either side of Hernandez, Baez and Linda Kenney Baden, sometimes even sharing a laugh with them, as if they were all part of the same team pursuing the same goal. But Haggan never included Hernandez in the conversation. Never so much as glanced at him as he was bantering with the man to Hernandez’s immediate right and then with the woman to his immediate left. The prosecutor did not want a defendant he saw as a triple murderer thinking he was something in this courtroom that he was not. Haggan did not want the former tight end to think he was even a small part of this team.
Unshackled but escorted by burly department of corrections officers, Hernandez would walk into Courtroom 906 wearing a jacket and tie. He would bro-hug his waiting attorneys with great enthusiasm. The ex-Patriot would chat easily with the people hired to defend him, as if he were making plans to meet them for dinner later around Quincy Market. He seemed to enjoy his temporary freedom, his time in a businessman’s clothes making average, everyday conversation. His demeanor suggested that a courtroom beats a prison cell eight days a week.
Hernandez looked a lot bigger than his listed 6-foot-1, 245 pounds as he stood and