BOSTON – As confident and as colorful as ever, Jose Baez, the famed defense attorney, paced in front of a Suffolk County jury here Thursday morning and didn’t just punch holes in the case against his client, Aaron Hernandez. He spent his one-hour, 25-minute closing argument ridiculing prosecutors for their desperation in trying to pin a double homicide on a former New England Patriots star.
With display boards set up holding pictures of surveillance videos and headshots of some of the 70 witnesses called in this six-week trial, Baez kept pulling photos off, first mocking and minimizing the testimony they provided and then criticizing prosecutor Patrick Haggan for letting so many of them walk free under sweetheart plea deals.
That includes, most notably, Alexander Bradley, the state’s star witness, whom Baez alleges was the actual killer yet managed to avoid all charges in the case.
“They are handing out immunity in this case like it’s Halloween,” Baez said. “Mr. Haggan is the next Oprah Winfrey: ‘You’ve got immunity, you’ve got immunity, we’ve all got immunity.’ That’s not how you build a case. You’re not the Oprah Winfrey of immunity.”
Hernandez is standing trial for the killing of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a 2012 drive-by shooting in the Boston Theatre District. The Commonwealth alleges that Hernandez grew enraged after de Abreu spilled a drink on him earlier in a nightclub. Unable to let such a sign of disrespect go, the Commonwealth argued that Hernandez later hunted de Abreu and his party down at closing time and ordered Bradley to drive up on their car.
Hernandez is already serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. While his freedom doesn’t hang in the balance here, the state is prosecuting this in an effort to solve a double homicide and seek justice for the families of the victims. A jury of 12, selected from a pool of 15, is expected to begin deliberations on Friday morning.
Much of the state’s case relies on the testimony of Bradley, an admitted drug trafficker and gun dealer who currently calls a Connecticut prison home. It makes for a dicey, tightrope walk of a prosecution because Bradley is one of two things:
1) A terribly compromised witness who is useful only in his ability to convict Hernandez by putting the gun in his hand and a motive in his mind.
2) The guy who actually committed the murders, but then in a twist out of Hollywood deftly duped cops and prosecutors into giving him immunity as he pinned it all on the less streetwise Hernandez. The two were best friends until, Bradley alleges, Hernandez shot Bradley in the face to shut him up about the murders (Hernandez is also charged with witness intimidation).
Bradley is currently three years into a five-year prison sentence in Connecticut for shooting up a Hartford nightclub in a separate incident. By Baez’s thinking, Bradley will walk by 2019 at the latest while gaining revenge against Hernandez via conviction for a crime Hernandez didn’t commit.
This is a murder case: de Abreu and Furtado, a couple of Cape Verdean immigrants working as janitors in pursuit of the American dream, tragically died that night, slumped in their car at a South End street light, victims of an unfathomable ambush.
And it’s a case of betrayal – of Hernandez’s football talent, of two once-inseparable friends and of common decency that left two hard-working families in mourning thanks to the wilding of Hernandez and Bradley. Even if Hernandez didn’t pull the trigger, he was almost certainly in the car at the time and later helped stash the vehicle in a Bristol, Conn., home connected to him, likely to protect his NFL career.
It is also a case of belief – the one the state put in Bradley and the belief by Baez that they were fools to back a “parasite” and a “career criminal.”
Baez argued that Bradley acknowledged he was the driver and thus by pulling up, driver’s side, by de Abreu’s car he was the most likely shooter. Bradley acknowledged that he once had the murder weapon, he just happened to sell it to Hernandez. Bradley acknowledged a life of violence and intimidation, and an obsession with street respect. And it is Bradley and only Bradley who claims that Hernandez was enraged that night to the point of murder. Other witnesses said he was relaxed. And it is Bradley, and Bradley alone, who said Hernandez tried to kill him off by shooting him between the eyebrows in Florida in 2013.
Everything, Baez said, is about Bradley. Everything.
“It’s like a house of cards and the slightest breeze will come by and knock it down,” Baez said. “These are the lies of Alexander Bradley. … There is not much to debate when you are basing everything on this man’s word. … You can’t trust this man. You can’t ride this man home.”
Baez was strong. His skill as an attorney is unquestioned. The man once famously got a young mother named Casey Anthony off on charges she killed her 2-year-old daughter, beating longer odds than gaining an acquittal here. Based out of Florida, he didn’t take a lengthy case all the way up here because he thought he’d lose.
Haggan, going second, acknowledged as much to the jury, directly noting the tour de force performance.
“You just heard Mr. Baez’s closing argument,” Haggan said. “Very well said.”
In contrast, Haggan methodically pointed out other evidence and other witnesses, and stuck to the narrative the state has built, even if so much of it was built on the words and observations of Bradley. In the end, he couldn’t do much else but defend his star witness. Bradley, in his own unique way, at times offered a level of credibility through honest admissions of his criminal dealings, his antics in the street and stating in open court his long-held desire to murder Hernandez if given the chance.
Of course he was flawed, Haggan said. That’s just the reality of the situation.
“This isn’t a church,” Haggan said. “This is a courtroom.”
Baez would have none of it. He compared Bradley to a racehorse the state bet everything on only to turn into a “three-legged pony” but it was too late to bail.
“They are going to ride him, ride him all the way home,” Baez mocked. “‘Come on Rocky’ [using one of Bradley’s street names].”
At another point, Baez looked at his crowded evidence display and waved his hand around.
“It’s reasonable doubt,” Baez boomed. “It’s all crowded with reasonable doubt. It’s not sprinkled throughout this case. Reasonable doubt lives here.”
Haggan tried to directly counter.
“Fertile imagination,” the prosecutor said. “The most innocent gesture is suddenly turned into reasonable doubt. … Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard the evidence, do not be misled by unreasonable or imaginary doubt. Do not engage in speculation, guesswork, conjecture and the wild conspiracy theories put forth by Mr. Baez in his closing.
“Speak the truth through your verdicts and find him guilty.”