Aaron Hernandez trial: Eyewitness to double murder refuses to crack in bitter testimony

Dan WetzelColumnist

BOSTON – Alexander Bradley was sitting at the witness stand, waiting for the end of a brief afternoon recess in the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial. This was his second full day of testimony, this one with him mostly under attack from a withering cross-examination. Yet Bradley looked not a bit tired or worn.

He looked eager. And a bit angry, his fingers rhythmically tapping on the wooden witness box, as he muttered under his breath, shook his head and glared at Hernandez’s attorney Jose Baez, who was unknowingly shuffling papers at his table.

Bradley once considered Hernandez his best friend, but now counts him as his mortal enemy, a flip that stems from the time, Bradley alleges, Hernandez shot him “between the eyebrows” and left him to die.

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Bradley may not hate Baez like that, but it was clear that there was some emotional transitive property at work here, a healthy (and growing) disdain for the defense attorney. It’s that emotional motivation that contributed to Bradley, despite a significantly compromised background, serving as a challenging witness for Baez to crack on Tuesday.

And Baez needs to crack him in order to get Hernandez off for killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a 2012 drive-by in this city’s south end. Baez has banked his case on selling an alternative theory to the jury that Bradley was not merely the driver that night (as Bradley admits) but the actual triggerman (which Bradley denies).

Bradley, 34, is an admitted drug trafficker and dealer of unregistered firearms. He’s also a twice-convicted felon currently serving a five-year stint in Connecticut for shooting up the front of the Vevo Lounge in Hartford in 2014. It was an act of rage that followed someone shooting him three times, including in the groin, after a dispute over money.

It is not an implausible concept that Bradley is a double murderer.

Alexander Bradley points to where he alleges Aaron Hernandez shot him in the face. (AP)
Alexander Bradley points to where he alleges Aaron Hernandez shot him in the face. (AP)

Getting that across isn’t easy, though, especially due to Bradley’s high level of intelligence, guile and ability to calculate ways to escape Baez’s cross-examination traps. Bradley refused to concede a single word or point of testimony, turning much of Tuesday into a halting, frustrating slog – complete with lengthy disputes over minor items, constant sidebars in front of Judge Jeffrey Locke and endless objections from prosecutors.

It robbed Baez, who is famed for his ability to decimate witnesses and win seemingly unwinnable cases (see Casey Anthony), of any signature testimonial victories in front of the jury.

Bradley seemed to revel in that. He often smiled at Baez and delighted in procedural rulings from the judge that he saw as a victory. He refused to let Baez embarrass him, embracing his background as a drug dealer, that culminated, he said, with moving as much as 30 pounds of marijuana a week. His brazenness in discussing criminal activity in open court was something out of Hollywood – perhaps the famous scene in HBO’s “The Wire” when stick-up man Omar Little explains to an incredulous courtroom that his occupation was robbing drug dealers.

“Dealing drugs is a very violent business, is it not?” Baez asked Bradley.

“It can be,” Bradley said, matter-of-factly.

Later Baez asked Bradley to identify some weapons and asked him if he knew much about firearms.

“I have some knowledge of guns, yes,” Bradley said.

The confidence was powerful. No apologies here. No regrets. Nothing to hide. For Bradley, this is personal, and petty, his own revenge operation in the middle of a major criminal proceeding. The jury will believe either he pulled the trigger or Hernandez did. It’s a zero-sum game. And Hernandez isn’t going to take the stand.

Guilty or not guilty, little will change in the life of the former New England Patriot star, since he’s already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, who dated the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée.

Acquittal would give Hernandez a measure of victory over Bradley, however. Conviction would go vice versa. To these guys, that may be all that matters.

Bradley wasn’t just physically wounded when Hernandez allegedly shot him in the face in February of 2013. He lost an eye and needed three surgeries to patch up a hole in his head. But it’s clear there were emotional scars also.

Hundreds of text messages between the two men were read in court this week that show Bradley pained at what he felt was the ultimate betrayal. Not simply Hernandez trying to kill him but that Hernandez ever believed Bradley would be disloyal and rat him out for his role in the Boston murders.

“You’re dealing with a [racial slur] who just loved you so much,” Bradley texted at one point.

“I love you to death but what you did was wrong,” Bradley texted another time.

He lamented that one of his daughters was upset because she could no longer go and see her “Uncle Aaron.” So Bradley lectured Hernandez on how the loss of their friendship was affecting others, too – like taking your kids around a homicidal maniac is a bright idea.

“You were family to her,” Bradley texted.

He predicted Hernandez would never find a friend as solid as he was, and that his new crew would burn him in ways Bradley never would have.

On that point, Hernandez perhaps agreed, sounding saddened and frustrated about what he lost – albeit due to his own alleged brutality. Friends like Bradley aren’t easy to come by, Hernandez noted, even as he consistently denied shooting Bradley.

Jose Baez needs to convince a jury that Alexander Bradley was the triggerman, not his client, Aaron Hernandez. (AP)
Jose Baez needs to convince a jury that Alexander Bradley was the triggerman, not his client, Aaron Hernandez. (AP)

“I will never have a friend again because I can’t trust nobody,” Hernandez texted. “So why bother?”

Plenty of Bradley’s text messages threatened violence, bragged about his small arsenal of weapons or attempted to extort money from him in the face of proposed civil litigation that would, in turn, end Hernandez’s NFL career. The bitterness over the breakup, though, stood out.

“I just wasn’t going to go down for something he did,” Bradley testified as to why he took an immunity deal from prosecutors, violating what he claimed was his previously principled stance against snitching. “I probably would have prior [to the shooting] but I had no loyalty anymore because of what he did.”

Such raw motivation is one of Bradley’s strengths here. He really, really wants to be a good witness. Where he once plotted to murder Hernandez or squeeze money from him, once Hernandez was locked up for the murder of Lloyd, Bradley had no other way to get back at him.

This is all that’s left, Bradley getting immunity and Hernandez getting convicted. Bradley will be out of prison by 2019 at the latest. Hernandez will have nothing but time to think about that.

So if that means battling Baez over every last word, if that means sitting on the witness stand all week, if that means using every bit of his intelligence to win even minor points, if that means motivating himself up to the point where a hatred of Hernandez becomes a hatred of Baez and he’s sharp and focused for the final session of the afternoon, then so be it.

“It’s sad it even came to this …” Bradley texted once. “Why couldn’t [you] rethink what [you] did …” Bradley texted another time. “You stole my trust …” Bradley complained.

For all the bluster and all the bullying, in text messages Alexander Bradley often sounded like a lover scorned. And hell hath no fury like one of those.

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