Former NFL player Hernandez found guilty of first-degree murder –

Aaron Hernandez, a former tight end with the New England Patriots who caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the 2012 Super Bowl, completed a stunning fall Wednesday when a Massachusetts jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.

It was a staggering judgment against Hernandez, 25, who in August 2012 signed a five-year contract extension worth roughly $40 million and who would have been in the prime of his career playing for one of the country’s marquee sports franchises.

The jury in Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River ruled that Hernandez acted with “extreme atrocity or cruelty” in the June 2013 shooting death of 27-year-old semiprofessional football player Odin Lloyd. Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee, was found shot six times in an industrial park not far from Hernandez’s home.

Upon hearing the verdict, which followed a 76-day trial and 35 hours of deliberation, Hernandez remained expressionless. He sat down and appeared to mouth, “Unreal.” He shook his head and licked his lips, holding his chin up. An officer handcuffed Hernandez’s tattooed hands together.

The verdict brought an automatic sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

“Aaron Hernandez may have been a well-known New England Patriots football player,” Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said at a news conference outside the courthouse. “However, in the end, the jury found that he was just a man who committed a brutal murder. The fact that he was a professional athlete meant nothing in the end.”

Although the conviction of an NFL player in his prime for a crime as serious as murder is extremely rare, the verdict nonetheless was unwelcome news for the league, which has confronted numerous cases of violent, off-the-field behavior by players in recent years. The league came under public scrutiny last season in the wake of several prominent domestic-abuse incidents involving its players.

The NFL and the Patriots had no immediate comment on the jury’s decision.

Hernandez, who was also convicted on two weapons charges, will next stand trial, probably later this year, in a separate case, a 2012 double murder in Boston that occurred months before he signed his contract extension. Prosecutors say he fired five shots into a car and killed Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado after an altercation at a nightclub.

The prosecution in the Lloyd killing won a conviction despite providing no clear motive, no murder weapon, and calling no witness to the shooting. The state did call 132 witnesses, including experts in electronic communication, Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez’s fiancee, whose sister Shaneah was dating Lloyd when he was killed. It built a meticulous case even with the lack of key, hard evidence, relying in part on home security footage from Hernandez’s own system that appeared to show him holding a gun.

His defense team tried to pick apart the state’s case, arguing that investigators fixated on Hernandez because of his celebrity and conducted a shoddy investigation in their zeal to confirm their suspicions.

Hernandez’s lawyer James Sultan acknowledged for the first time during closing statements that Hernandez was there when Lloyd was killed.

“He was a 23-year-old kid, who witnessed something, a shocking killing committed by someone he knew,” Sultan said. “He didn’t know what to do.”

But the attorney pinned the shooting on two of Hernandez’s friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, who will stand trial later.

Prosecutors have suggested Lloyd may have been killed because he knew too much about the 2012 killings. But they were not allowed to tell the jury that because the judge said it was speculation.

As a result, they never offered jurors a motive beyond saying Hernandez appeared angry with Lloyd at a nightclub two nights before the killing.

In the 2012 case, Hernandez is accused of gunning down the two men in a dispute over a spilled drink.

All 12 jurors and three alternates spoke to reporters Wednesday, saying they were shocked by the defense admission that Hernandez was at the scene of the killing – an acknowledgment that they said helped confirm he was guilty.

They also described how the judge talked to them privately after they reached their decision and told them about other allegations and evidence not presented in the case, including the 2012 slayings and the last texts Lloyd sent minutes before he died saying that said he was with “NFL.”

Throughout the trial, Hernandez exuded confidence. He strutted into the courtroom in crisp suits. He greeted lawyers at the start of deliberations with a fist bump.

Hernandez’s mother, Terri, and fiancee sat behind him sobbing in court as the verdict was read. His fiancee shook and dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, was among four family members who addressed the court as impact witnesses Wednesday. She called Lloyd “the most precious gift I ever received,” and she wept.

Pending an appeal, Hernandez will spend his life sentence at Massachusetts Correctional Institute Cedar Junction in Walpole. The facility is a 3.7-mile drive from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, where the Patriots play home games.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.


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