Aaron Hernandez trial: Fiancée drops bombshell that could have sprung former NFL star
FALL RIVER, Mass. – The entire thing came out of nowhere, which may have been the defense strategy all along.
Monday hadn't been going particularly well for Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star standing trial here for the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.
His fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, had offered up a series of implausible stories about why on Hernandez's command she disposed of a box from their home (which the prosecution alleges contained the murder weapon) the day after Lloyd's body was found.
Then came a late question on cross-examination from defense attorney Charles Rankin.
Did you ever smell the box, he asked Jenkins?
"I did," she testified.
And what did it smell like?
"Sort of like a skunky smell," she said, later noting she connected that smell with "marijuana."
It was expected the defense would offer to jurors a theory of what was inside the box Jenkins ushered out of the house and disposed of in a mystery dumpster, the location of which she can't recall.
Police never found the suspected murder weapon, a .45 caliber Glock. The prosecution has suggested Jenkins disposed of it by throwing out that box. Jenkins randomly throwing anything into some unknown dumpster a day after Lloyd was found dead is suspicious and thus damaging to Hernandez. The defense couldn't let it lay out there without some kind of counter theory.
Drugs always made the most sense. Hernandez smoked pot almost constantly in the days before Lloyd's death. To say he wanted illegal marijuana out of the house made sense, particularly if you are an NFL player susceptible to NFL drug rules.
Yet rather than raise the smell theory during closing arguments, Rankin had Jenkins bring it up directly. The way she answered his questions without hesitation made it sound rehearsed. Rankin almost assuredly knew what she was going to say. It was a good bit of theatre.
The issues here remain numerous though.
As prosecutor William McCauley immediately pounced on during redirect, Monday was the first time in the history of the case that Jenkins mentioned the smell of marijuana, or the smell of anything at all involving the box.
She never told police or investigators. She never said it in grand jury testimony. She never even alluded to it during her previous eight and a half total hours on the stand here across two days of this trial at Bristol County (Mass.) Superior Court.
"Is this the first time you've said that?" McCauley asked.
"Yes," Jenkins acknowledged.
Rankin later countered that she'd never been specifically asked about smell. But considering how damaging the removal of the box is to the case against Hernandez and how any suggestion that it was full of marijuana could serve as a measure of exculpatory evidence, why wouldn't she have spoken up about it?
Yet she didn't.
Had Jenkins come to court here and said that Hernandez told her to throw out a box of drugs, the prosecution would have been reeling.
By June 18, 2013, a full day after Lloyd's body was found, police had already begun to zero in on Hernandez as a suspect. Hernandez would have expected that a search warrant of the house was coming.
Even if he were innocent of the murder, he certainly wouldn't want illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia in the house. Not only could it lead to some kind of low-level criminal charges, such a discovery would put him in trouble with the NFL and the Patriots, which have strict drug restrictions.
If he'd just said, "Get all the drugs out of there," then the entire scene with Jenkins hurriedly removing the box from the house would make sense.
Jenkins, however, said Hernandez never told her what was in the box and she never asked. If it was as innocent as trying to avoid any problems with the NFL, then why wouldn't he have told her what was in the box?
Hernandez's prodigious use of drugs was no secret to Jenkins. She said she accepted it, as well as his frequent infidelity, as part of the deal of being with him.
As his fiancée and mother to their then eight-month-old child, she certainly would've been sympathetic to not jeopardizing his $40-million football contract over smoking pot.
Since she was granted immunity not only from previous charges she lied to a grand jury, but also from anything that might come from her testimony here, she could've reversed course at no penalty and described what was inside the box. If she knew.
Drugs, maybe. Paraphernalia. If there was anything inside the box to help Hernandez, this was the time to reveal it. She didn't. Instead, she stuck to the story that he never told her what was inside and she never looked.
The only thing she noticed about the box was the smell, yet she never suggested anything of the sort until the very end.
The defense is likely to offer up the marijuana argument again during its closing argument. The problem there, however, is that on Monday Jenkins also testified that the box she removed from the basement weighed "35 to 40 pounds" and was 12 inches wide by 24 inches tall. Surveillance video of her carrying the box shows the petite then 23-year-old struggling with its weight.
There is no way to fit 35 to 40 pounds of marijuana – a lightweight plant – inside a box that size. The physical volume of that much pot would be exponentially bigger.
Rankin tried to focus on Jenkins' grand jury testimony that the box may have only weighed about 25 pounds. Jenkins allowed on Monday that that might be more accurate, but she didn't say for sure. Either way, even 25 pounds is still too much weight for it to be all marijuana.
As such, the prosecution should be able to counter the marijuana defense that the box may have indeed contained drugs, but it also had to contain something heavier, leaving the possibility of guns, other weapons or additional evidence. The Commonwealth can argue Hernandez rounded up every possible item that could incriminate him – 40 pounds of trouble – and put it in that box for Jenkins to dump.
In this case, it can actually smell like marijuana, even be marijuana, and still be the final resting place of that Glock.
By springing the smell theory late in the cross-examination, the defense did prevent the prosecution from preparing fully to question Jenkins in real time. McCauley could only react and think on his feet. So the jury got at least something to think about as it headed home Monday.
On an otherwise tough day for the Aaron Hernandez defense, that passed as a victory.