BOSTON — The 4-year-old girl cried that she missed her father, cried that she wanted to see him. And so her mother scooped her up and brought her here on Wednesday afternoon, to Room 906 of the Suffolk County Courthouse for a brief and emotional and likely confusing visit.
Just before 4 o’clock, just before the end of another day of jury deliberation without a verdict, in walked Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, carrying in her arms the daughter she shares with Aaron Hernandez. Shayanna and Aaron aren’t married, but she recently took his name anyway. It was the first time their daughter has come to court to see her dad.
Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star, is already a convicted killer, serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. He is currently awaiting a jury verdict on charges that he killed Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a 2012 Boston drive-by shooting.
A day of deliberations without a verdict ends with a short proceeding, with all parties present. There the jury informs the judge that it needs to recess until the following morning. It lasts but a few minutes.
As Hernandez was brought from a holding cell downstairs into the courtroom, his head snapped up at the unexpected vision of his daughter. He beamed a smile, his entire face lighting up. So, too, did his daughter’s. They were separated by a few rows of benches, a courtroom bar and, of course, a pack of officers, but in that fleeting moment, they were daddy and daughter. After being told to take his seat at the defense table, Hernandez turned back four times and smiled, offering a little wave.
A few minutes later, after the jury had departed for the day, Hernandez rose again and was ushered out by officers. Three times he blew kisses to his daughter. She returned the wave and then teared up a bit.
It was … heartbreaking.
Heartbreaking because here was an loving little girl who simply wanted to be with her dad. Heartbreaking because here was an adoring child whose relationship with him is, and always will be, housed by court officers and prison bars. Heartbreaking because here was an innocent child who can’t possibly grasp it all. (Shayanna would grant permission to a pool photographer and cameraman to take pictures and film her daughter.)
Heartbreaking, too, because of the people sitting in the two rows in front of Jenkins-Hernandez.
Each and every day the families and friends of Abreu and Furtado come here in an attempt to find closure for their worst nightmare. They are blue-collar immigrants, arriving from Cape Verde off the West African coast. They came in pursuit of the American Dream only to have it rocked one tragic night in the Theatre District where either Hernandez shot one of their boys in the head and one of them in the chest, or at least rode shotgun when his buddy Alexander Bradley pulled the trigger before helping cover up the act.
Abreu and Furtado were young men with drive in search of a future. They came and worked as cleaners in the high-rise offices of Boston, long hours and little glamor, a far cry from Hernandez’s NFL world. They stepped out late on a Sunday, their one night off, only to spend about nine minutes in the same half-empty nightclub as Hernandez and Bradley.
There, prosecutors allege, a dancing Abreu bumped into Hernandez, splashing a bit of his drink. Enraged at that act and the fact the Cape Verdean didn’t recognize the Patriot and apologize profusely enough, Hernandez hunted them down later, allegedly ambushing them as they sat innocently idling at a red light.
Heartbreaking? Oh so heartbreaking because the chance for these two families to see Daniel and Safiro again under any circumstance – to see them smile, to see them beam, to see them light up in love – would be a gift to cherish.
They don’t get that gift. They don’t get that chance. Their son is gone. Their brother is gone. Their cousin is gone. Their friend is gone.
No waves. No blown kisses. Nothing.
Instead they’ve had to endure autopsy pictures and detailed testimony ranging from bullet fragments to idiotic, arrogant behavior from the defendant. They had to listen to an extremely thin defense theory that it was actually Bradley who killed them because of a drug deal with Abreu that went bad. It is an insulting charge Abreu’s family and friends vehemently deny. To see the victims dragged through the mud has added insult to injustice.
The American judicial system is new to all of them. These are not naïve or uneducated people, though; they are smart and strong and sensitive to perspective. They are two beautiful families to behold. Some of the crowd can’t follow it in English and need a court-supplied translator. The younger folks help the older ones. It is a circle of support.
Day after day they commute downtown, some from inside the city, some from suburbs and exurbs south of Boston, fighting traffic, battling weather, shelling out exorbitant fees to parking garages.
They’ve been forced to put their lives on hold, skipping out on work or trying to catch up on it and the small businesses they run via laptops they bring and spread out in a victim’s advocacy room downstairs. The siblings try to balance time with their own kids, one more drain in an already busy life.
Heartbreaking because the vision of Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez holding her precocious daughter, seemingly the perfect young family, was a reminder of how senseless this whole ordeal is. Hernandez gave that up for this?
He could have had it all. He did have it all.
Shayanna was pregnant on the night Abreu and Furtado were killed. Hernandez was just months removed from catching a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl and just weeks from signing a $40 million contract with the Pats. They were two kids out of Bristol, Connecticut, that had made it, living in a McMansion with a pool and a three-car garage. And yet he was out on the town with a drug and gun dealer, allegedly armed and, a jury will soon decide, in a mood to kill.
Heartbreaking because it didn’t need to be this way. There are no good murders. There are no justifiable reasons for murder. But this, this is something else. This was no long-simmering rivalry, no domestic situation, no business deal gone bad, no street brawl that escalated, no criminal acts being covered up, no product of gang activity or any of the more common, if no less terrible, reasons we have murder in America.
This just happened.
The how and the when and the by whom will be determined by that jury.
The why will never make sense.
A little girl got to see her dad on Wednesday, in among the worst and most desperate and depressing of circumstances. It was heartbreaking. It was all heartbreaking.