Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez once again took to the witness stand on Thursday, once again finding herself center stage of a murder trial involving her still fiancé, Aaron Hernandez.
Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star tight end, is already serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd in North Attleboro, Mass. He is now charged with the 2012 homicides of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a drive-by shooting in Boston, which stems, prosecutors say, from Abreu earlier spilling a drink on Hernandez in a nightclub.
Parts of Jenkins-Hernandez’s testimony were familiar. She again took an immunity deal to become a prosecution witness, yet once again offered brief, vague, mostly useless answers.
She was, all these days later, still standing by her man, doing her best to help him beat the rap.
Part of her appearance was new, though – namely the hyphenated name.
The former Shayanna Jenkins, 27, isn’t married to Hernandez. The two have remained engaged since October 2012, she said. They also have a 4-year-old daughter together.
In 2015, however, Jenkins-Hernandez had her name legally changed, adding Aaron’s surname. That was just after Hernandez was convicted of the Lloyd murder. That sent Hernandez away for life and caused his small NFL fortune to disappear due to legal bills, creditors and civil suits.
Stripping away all context, this is a tale of pure and puzzling devotion.
Hernandez has seemingly little to offer – he’s locked up, broke and one of the most infamous convicted murderers in America. The couple’s 7,100-foot McMansion in North Attleboro is vacant and on the market for $1.299 million. The $40 million deal he signed with the Pats was long ago voided.
And there is strain on Shayana Jenkins-Hernandez. The victim of Hernandez’s first conviction, Lloyd, was the happy-go-lucky boyfriend of Jenkins-Hernandez’s sister. The two siblings, once extremely close from growing up in a single-parent home, are now, understandably, estranged.
Becoming legally married seems pointless. It conveys no known benefits for Jenkins-Hernandez. Even if Hernandez became a model prisoner, the Massachusetts Department of Correction does not allow conjugal visits for anyone, according to spokesman Chris Fallon. The couple will never be allowed anything more than “a very brief welcoming and departing embrace and closed mouth kiss.” Other than that they can sit side by side and hold hands.
Jenkins-Hernandez routinely attends the current trial in Suffolk Superior Court and, as always, is polite, engaging and friendly to everyone. Once again on Thursday, she sat as a state witness but offered consistent resistance to prosecutor Patrick Haggan, essentially neither recalling nor remembering anything of note.
She knew nothing of the murders in Boston nor what prosecutors allege was the subsequent shooting by Hernandez of his friend, Alexander Bradley. She could recall few, if any, notable dates, times or conversations. She pretty much remembered nothing about anything.
At one point, Haggan was inquiring about tattoos that Hernandez and Jenkins-Hernandez got during a trip to California. Aaron’s reads: “Remind me that we’ll always have each other … ” It’s part of a lyric from the band Incubus, although Shayanna says she discovered it on Pinterest. Her tattoo almost certainly finishes the verse: ” … When everything else is gone.”
Even on this unimportant, non-incriminating point however, she wasn’t sure what her own tattoo reads, this despite it being inked on her own skin.
“Oh geez, I’d have to look,” Jenkins-Hernandez said, signaling that doing so would require disrobement. Judge Jeffrey Locke spared her of that.
On another occasion she was asked what Hernandez would do down in his basement man cave – which included a pool table, bar, weight room and movie theater. She claimed she didn’t know.
“Man-cave stuff,” Judge Jeffrey Locke offered, stepping in.
Later, she grew weary of Haggan pestering her with questions and general disbelief that she could remember so little about so much about life with Hernandez.
The two grew up together in Bristol, Conn., her on Union Street, he around the corner on Greystone Avenue. They met early in elementary school. In junior high he tried to impress her with grown-up style “dates” – movies and a meal at a sit-down restaurant. It got serious in high school, where they were both standout athletes – he in football and basketball, she in track. It survived his three years at the University of Florida. “On again, off again,” Jenkins-Hernandez described it.
When he was drafted by the Patriots in 2010, she soon moved in with him, first in a townhouse, then a big dream home, with doctors as neighbors and rocking chairs on the front porch. The two kids out of Bristol had seemingly made it.
She just couldn’t recall much about it, though. She eventually grew tired of what she appeared to believe was Haggan’s constant badgering and interrupting. So Jenkins-Hernandez turned to the judge.
“I’m done, your honor,” she said. The judge noted that but made her continue testifying anyway.
It was similar to her testimony in the Lloyd murder trial in 2015 in Fall River, Mass. In that one, she was under suspicion of ferrying the murder weapon out of the Hernandez home when, upon Aaron’s request, she took a box of unknown items out of the basement and disposed of them in a dumpster, the location of which she never could recall. Jurors later said her testimony was almost completely non-believable.
In this one, her role isn’t as closely tied to the crime. Still, she described a life with Hernandez where she wanted for little materialistically but claimed to know little about anything else. She didn’t know who he was hanging around with, what clubs he was going to or even what he was up to when he wouldn’t return for the night – Hernandez rented a so-called “flop house” apartment nearby and regularly rented hotel rooms after nights of partying in Boston.
In February 2013, for instance, Hernandez and Bradley took a trip to Florida (where prosecutors say Hernandez shot Bradley in the face in a failed attempt to kill a potential witness). Jenkins-Hernandez was home with their newborn and didn’t seem to care that Hernandez was leaving or even inquire when he might return.
“Did he ask for your permission to go to Florida?” Haggan asked, noting they were brand new parents together.
“A grown man?” Jenkins-Hernandez said, laughing and shaking her head. “A grown man, he doesn’t ask permission. No.”
Haggan plugged away at Jenkins-Hernandez’s supposed lack of curiosity about anything. For instance, she heard that Bradley was hospitalized after being shot in the head during that Florida trip. Yet she couldn’t really recall if she asked Aaron much about it.
How, Haggan asked, could you not want to know, especially when your fiancé was there also?
“I pick and choose my battles,” Jenkins-Hernandez said. “There are some things that are worth arguing about and there some things that are not. I didn’t see that as being one of them. [Bradley] wasn’t my close friend. Yes, it’s a sad situation, but why should I press on something like that when I had other things to worry about?”
That’s how it went – Haggan trying to get details, Jenkins-Hernandez offering nothing. About the only time she acknowledged caring what Aaron was up to was when she opened the “junk drawer” in their kitchen in the fall of 2012 and discovered a silver handgun. She said she went down to the basement man cave and shot Aaron her signature “look.”
“I have this distinct look, I guess, and I gave him the look and he figured it out himself,” Jenkins-Hernandez said.
How did she know it worked? The next time she opened the drawer, the gun was gone.
She later declined to show the court her “look.”
Not long after that, she was off the stand and, without offering a glance at her fiancé, out the door. If Aaron Hernandez is convicted of these murders, it won’t be because Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez said anything to put him away. All morning on the stand and she hardly said anything at all.
Armed with immunity and his name hyphenated to hers, she was off with her attorney into the swirl of downtown Boston, still loyal … still oddly and passionately loyal.
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