Aaron Hernandez’s downward spiral
More than 18 months ago, the body of Odin Lloyd was found in an industrial park in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Lloyd had been shot seven times near a pile of construction waste.
The semipro football player for the Boston Bandits was 27.
Days after he was found dead, then-NFL star Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder. Jury selection in the case against Hernandez begins this week. Hernandez also faces murder charges in a 2012 double homicide. He has pleaded not guilty.
The charges mark the latest turn in Hernandez’s downward spiral. Just two years ago, he was one of the NFL’s most promising tight ends, inking a $40-million contract extension with the New England Patriots.
Friends and fans alike wonder: How could the star player who had more than 900 receiving yards in 2011 now be on trial for murder?
From ‘golden boy’ to behind bars
Long before Hernandez made national headlines, he was a standout athlete in Bristol, Connecticut, who came from a family described as a local sports dynasty.
“I don’t think there was another family that was more familiar in Bristol,” Bob Montgomery, who covers high school sports for the Bristol Press, told CNN.
The young Hernandez was the “golden boy,” playing football, basketball and running track, following in the footsteps of his uncle, older brother and father — all well-known athletes in the community.
Hernandez’s father constantly pushed his son, requiring him to practice for hours before he could go out with friends.
“I saw a closeness with them that I’d never seen before,” Montgomery said of the relationship between Hernandez and his father.
But his father, the man who kept the 16-year-old anchored, died from complications after a routine surgery.
Hernandez left high school halfway through his senior year in January 2007 to join the University of Florida Gators, and trouble seemed to follow.
In just his first semester, a police report says Hernandez got into a fight at an off-campus restaurant, sucker-punching the manager and rupturing his eardrum.
The following fall, there was a shooting near a local club. Police reports link Hernandez and several other University of Florida football players to an argument in the parking lot.
Hernandez was one of more than 20 people interviewed by police, and he was the only one who did not make a statement after invoking his right to counsel.
At the time, Hernandez’s mother told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, “I know he was at the club, but he never saw any shooting.”
The case remains open, and no one has been charged.
Hernandez was also suspended at least once for marijuana, an issue that would follow him as he entered the draft his junior year.
Trying to put the alleged drug use behind him, Hernandez wrote a letter to the Patriots director of personnel.
“If you draft me as a member of the New England Patriots, I will willfully submit to a bi-weekly drug test throughout my rookie season. … In addition, I will tie any guaranteed portion of my 2010 compensation to these drug tests and reimburse the team a pro-rata amount for any failed drug test,” he wrote, according to the Boston Globe.
Before the draft, Hernandez was expected to be a first- or second-round pick. He was passed over until the fourth round, when the Patriots selected him.
By the end of his second season, he was a bona fide star, landing the $40 million contract extension.
Less than a year after signing the deal, however, the Patriots dropped him on the day he was charged with Lloyd’s murder.
The killing of Odin Lloyd
When Odin Lloyd pulled up in a black Chevrolet suburban, Boston Bandits coach Mike Branch thought something was out of place. Lloyd didn’t own a car.
Branch had his suspicions, but he couldn’t get answers. Lloyd was too busy telling his friends about the good time he had at the club the previous night.
“He said he was at the club with Mr. Hernandez, and that they were partying and he had a good time, and that Mr. Hernandez spent a good amount of money,” Branch recalled. Lloyd said Hernandez spent about $10,000 that night.
Lloyd’s friends say he wasn’t a big partier. He was more passionate about football and family.
Lloyd was dating Shaneah Jenkins, the link between the young man who dreamed of the NFL and the all-American who made it.
Jenkins is the younger sister of Shayanna, who’s engaged to Hernandez and the mother of his little girl.
On June 16, 2013, Lloyd was riding with friends in the black suburban, which police later learned was rented by Hernandez.
Daryl Hodge was with Lloyd when he said Lloyd got a text from Hernandez, asking to hang out later that night.
As they parted ways, Lloyd told Hodge he’d see him later.
The next day, Lloyd’s body was found.
Prosecutors say Lloyd was last seen with Hernandez and Hernandez’s two associates, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, around 2:30 a.m. in a rented silver Nissan Altima.
Surveillance video from security cameras at an industrial park showed an Altima heading toward a secluded area at 3:22 a.m.
At the same time, chilling text messages from Lloyd’s phone were sent to his sister telling her he was with “Nfl,” adding, “just so u know.”
Between 3:23 and 3:27 a.m., workers nearby reported hearing gunshots. At 3:29, a camera showed an Altima pulling into Hernandez’s driveway, about a half a mile from the death scene.
Three people got out of the car, and Lloyd was not one of them.
Nine days later, Hernandez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and other weapon-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
In April, Ortiz and Wallace were also charged in Lloyd’s slaying. They, too, have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say the three men are being tried in a joint venture, a legal term that means it’s not necessary to prove who pulled the trigger as long as there is evidence that each defendant actively participated in Lloyd’s murder.
As the trial for the death of Lloyd has neared, lawyers have been arguing about evidence, including cell phones and text messages. Some rulings are victories for the defense.
The jury won’t see the text Lloyd sent to his sister, telling her he was with “Nfl.” The judge ruled it hearsay and said the state hasn’t proven Lloyd believed his life was in danger.
Jurors also won’t hear anything about what happened in Boston on July 16, 2012 — the night two men were murdered outside a club where Hernandez had been. The judge agreed with defense lawyers that it’s far too prejudicial and irrelevant to Lloyd’s murder.
Did spilled drink lead to slaying?
Investigators allege Hernandez shot and killed Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado because one bumped into him on a nightclub dance floor and spilled his drink.
District Attorney Patrick Haggan described the scene in a Massachusetts courtroom in May, saying Hernandez became “angered and increasingly agitated, particularly after Mr. Abreu smiled and did not apologize.”
Hernandez’s friend tried to calm him down, and the pair walked outside and eventually entered a second club across the street, the prosecutor said. Court documents identify that friend as Alexander Bradley, who would go on to accuse Hernandez of shooting him in the eye in an incident that would take place seven months later. (If Bradley testifies during the trial for the murder of Lloyd, he cannot talk about allegedly being shot by Hernandez, the judge ruled).
After leaving the second nightclub, Hernandez and the friend returned to their SUV and pulled over on a nearby street where Hernandez removed a revolver from the engine block, Haggan said.
Hernandez began trailing Abreu, Furtado and three of their friends in his SUV, authorities said.
He then pulled up to the victims’ car at a red light and leaned out the driver’s side window with a loaded revolver, Haggan told the court.
Hernandez allegedly said, “Yo, what’s up now,” followed by a racial slur, and fired at least five rounds from a .38-caliber revolver, Haggan said.
Abreu, the driver, was shot several times and fatally hit in the chest. Furtado was sitting in the front passenger seat and suffered multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head, Haggan said.
Hernandez was charged in the double homicide in May, and he pleaded not guilty.
Investigators found evidence they believe links him to the 2012 slayings while investigating the death of Lloyd.
As for the Lloyd case, Hernandez’s lawyers contend the circumstantial evidence has gaps.
“There’s certainly a lot of what I would call smoke. There’s no doubt about it,” defense lawyer Jamie Sultan said during a June 16 hearing. “But that’s not probable cause that he committed murder. And you can’t just throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and say that’s good enough.”
Now, a jury will decide. There is a gag order prohibiting the defense and prosecution from commenting on the case.
Hernandez’s lawyers and mother declined to be interviewed, but both predict he will be cleared. It’s a possibility that haunts Lloyd’s loved ones.
“That’s my biggest fear,” Michael Branch, Lloyd’s former coach and mentor, said. “All it takes is one juror.”