Aaron Hernandez jury still deliberating as Patriots feted in Boston

Dan Wetzel

FALL RIVER, Mass. – The New England winter was long and unusually harsh. Massive snow. Bitter cold.

Monday bloomed warm and sunny though, the perfect weather for the unofficial start of spring, the home opener of the Boston Red Sox, 50 miles north of here at Fenway Park.

Jurors are still deliberating on the fate of Aaron Hernandez. (AP)
Jurors are still deliberating on the fate of Aaron Hernandez. (AP)
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There to celebrate the start of the season were members of the New England Patriots, who gave the region its one warm memory from the winter when they captured the franchise's fourth Super Bowl in early February.

So Tom Brady took batting practice and threw out the first pitch. Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft carried Lombardi Trophies out on the diamond. Roars of adulation washed over them all.

And down here their one-time star tight end, Aaron Hernandez, spent most of the day in a holding pen at the Fall River Justice Center, sitting around as a jury deliberated whether he was responsible for the June 17, 2013, murder of Odin Lloyd. The panel of seven women and five men made no determination Monday, concluding 27 hours of work. They'll return Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET.

The juxtaposition was telling – smiling Patriots faces, content from work well done in Boston against tension building through the hours for a man who could've been a key cog in that title run. Back in the summer of 2012, Kraft and Belichick had signed Hernandez to a $40 million contract. It was just weeks after he allegedly gunned down two men in a drive-by shooting in Boston's South End neighborhood and 10 months before the death of Lloyd.

Hernandez's trial started here at Bristol County Superior Court back in late January, just four days before the Patriots' thrilling, last-minute victory over Seattle. In their previous Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the New York Giants in 2012, Hernandez caught a touchdown pass from Brady.

Now they all couldn't be further apart, one group spending the afternoon getting feted by fans, the other left behind, dealing with the possibility that a dozen citizens could vote to throw him in a cage to be forgotten forever.

The jury's only public word on Monday came in the morning when it sent a matter to the attention of Judge E. Susan Garsh. Not about guilt or innocence or even clarification on an item of evidence.

They wanted to make sure they could take smoking breaks. Garsh agreed they could, as long as discussion ceased until all 12 members of the jury were back in the room.

Was this a sign of the stress of deliberations? Was it reflective of a coping mechanism to deal with the frustration of dealing with a hold-out juror?

Or was it just nicotine addiction?

For nervous attorneys on each side, not to mention the families of Hernandez and Lloyd, speculation on cigarettes was all there was to do here.

Both sides have reasons to be heartened by the extended, but not unexpected, length of the deliberations. Juries are out an average of four to six days in Massachusetts' murder cases. Tuesday will represent the fifth full day in this one.

To the defense, the extensive discussion might mean the presence of one or more jurors arguing for Hernandez's innocence. For the prosecution, the belief is the longer this takes, the more the focus is on the evidence, which overwhelmingly points toward Hernandez being guilty.

The reality is, no one knows.

The case lasted 41 days across 10 weeks, featuring 135 witnesses and 439 pieces of evidence. It's common for even brief murder trials in Massachusetts to take a few days to decide, so Hernandez is still essentially in that zone; and this was a far more complex, and bitterly defended, case.

Hernandez, 25, is facing charges of first-degree murder, weapons and ammunition in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a Boston landscaper found in an undeveloped plot of industrial land near Hernandez's spacious North Attleboro home. If convicted on the first-degree murder charge, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Hernandez's defense team acknowledged in closing arguments that he was present for the murder but did not do it or orchestrate it. Prosecutors have alleged Hernandez was the triggerman, although under Massachusetts' joint venture law they merely need to prove he was involved with intent. Two co-conspirators, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, a couple of alleged small-time drug dealers from Connecticut and friends of Hernandez, were also present.

The longer deliberations go, the more likely the decision falls on the idea that jurors are weighing a mountain of circumstantial evidence against Hernandez against the lack of obvious motive for him participating in the crime.

Hernandez's fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, came to court again Monday, this time without any friends or family. She spent the day reading magazines and her phone while seated in the front row of the gallery of the fifth-floor courtroom. She and Hernandez shared smiles as he came in and out of the courtroom at the start and end of the day.

At 4:30, the jury was dismissed for the day, sending Hernandez back to his 7-by-10-foot cell for the night.

Everyone else was free to head out into the warm afternoon sun, plenty of time to still go watch the baseball game.

It was the bottom of the third, Sox up 5-0.

 

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