FALL RIVER, Mass. – New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft likes to consider all of his employees as extended family.
When he arrived at Gillette Stadium on the morning of June 19, 2013, he found a throng of media in the parking lot and news helicopters flying above. It was a sign that Aaron Hernandez, then just a murder suspect but now standing trial for the death of Odin Lloyd, was inside.
Kraft made a beeline for the Patriots' weight room.
There he found Hernandez, a star tight end, and pulled him into a side room for a man-to-man, heart-to-heart conversation. Kraft told Hernandez to look him in the eye and tell him if he was involved in the murder.
"He said he was not involved, that he was innocent," Kraft testified Tuesday morning here at Bristol County (Mass.) Superior Court. "And he hoped that the time of the murder came out because I believe he said he was in a club."
The prosecution is trying to prove Hernandez was the gunman who shot Lloyd six times in a field behind an industrial park in North Attleboro, Mass., at around 3:32 a.m. on June 17, 2013.
It has clearly established Hernandez was not in a club that night, nor that any clubs are officially open at that time in either Massachusetts or Rhode Island. And via footprint and tire tread evidence, plus surveillance video and cell phone records, it has built a solid case placing Hernandez at the scene of the crime near his home.
As such, while having a man as famous and respected as Kraft reiterating Hernandez's innocent plea would appear to benefit the defense, the fact that the club alibi was a clear lie likely undermines that to the jurors. In fact, the club alibi is no longer even being offered by Hernandez's legal team.
The jury is well aware that Hernandez didn't go to a single nightclub that evening, merely having dinner earlier in Providence with his fiancée and some friends. After Hernandez returned home from dinner, his own surveillance video as well as phone records show he and two friends got into a car, drove and picked up a very-alive Lloyd at his Boston-area home before immediately heading to the eventual murder scene, then returning to Hernandez's home.
So, essentially, Hernandez lied to Kraft, a beloved owner of the four-time Super Bowl champs. And he has now employed shifting accounts of his whereabouts that night.
Later, prosecutor William McCauley asked Kraft if Hernandez explained how he knew the time of Lloyd's murder if he was not involved.
That was immediately objected to by defense attorneys and struck by Judge E. Susan Garsh.
Across about a half an hour on the stand, Kraft locked eyes with Hernandez just once, when Kraft was told to identify the defendant. Jurors meanwhile were locked in on Kraft, perhaps as attentively as any witness in this now 37-day long murder trial. The atmosphere was electric. Kraft is a billionaire with a smooth, relaxed personality; he wore a slick, expensive suit and black Nike sneakers. On Tuesday he appeared uncomfortable under precise cross-examination and orders by the judge to not give expansive answers.
Kraft testified he simply wanted to get the truth from Hernandez in case he could help him in a time of tumult. He'd heard of the alleged murder and was aware of the police and media crush surrounding Hernandez.
The two had a fairly close relationship, traditionally greeting each other with a hug and kiss. In 2010, the Patriots drafted Hernandez out of the University of Florida and in 2012 rewarded his play with a $40 million contract.
"I understood there was an incident that transpired and I wanted to know if he was involved, and if he was, any player who comes into our system I consider part of our extended family and I want to get them help," Kraft said.
Kraft testified he also asked Hernandez about the victim. Hernandez told him they knew each other because they were dating a pair of sisters.
Defense attorney Michael Fee later tried to seize on this in an effort to bolster their argument that Hernandez and Lloyd were close friends and thus there was no motive for murder.
The defense also focused on the trust the Patriots put in Hernandez by offering him such a sizable contract extension. Kraft wouldn't say that he thought Hernandez was a good person.
"Do you know why the organization signed him to a long-term contract?" Fee asked.
"He's a very good player," Kraft said curtly.
"Sir, isn't it true that when Aaron was at the stadium, he was always respectful to you?" Fee asked.
"Yes," Kraft said.
"You had no experience, Mr. Kraft, with any problems with Aaron?" Fee asked.
"No," Kraft said.
On re-direct McCauley pointed out the limited interactions between Kraft and Hernandez, who has been depicted during the trial as a serial partier, womanizer and marijuana smoker.
"Did you know much about the life of Aaron Hernandez outside when he showed up at the stadium?" McCauley asked.
"No," Kraft said.
Kraft left the court surrounded by a slew of cameras, offering only brief comments about his day in court, saying he felt bad for the Lloyd family.
"Yes," Kraft told reporters. "A man died."
Patriots in-house counsel, Andrew Phelan, was present at court but left before the morning break. That suggests that New England coach Bill Belichick will not be called as a prosecution witness, at least not on Tuesday. Belichick is on a pretrial potential witness list.
Later, Mark Briggs, the head of security for the Patriots, told a similar story of conversing with Hernandez that day at Gillette. Hernandez also told him he had been at a club that night and denied any involvement in the murder.
"He swore on his baby's life he was telling the truth," Briggs testified.
The problem for the defense: Hernandez wasn't telling the truth about that nightclub.