Will Aaron Hernandez's fiancée testify against him?

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Yahoo Sports
Shayanna Jenkins faces perjury charges for lying to a grand jury. (AP)
Shayanna Jenkins faces perjury charges for lying to a grand jury. (AP)

FALL RIVER, Mass. – She is 25, pretty, petite and the young mother of a toddler. Her friends call her Shay. She was listed as "Boss Lady" in the cell phone of Aaron Hernandez, her high school boyfriend turned NFL star turned father of her 2-year-old daughter turned accused murderer, three times over.

Now, as the prosecution's witness list gets whittled down, Shayanna Jenkins is the most closely watched figure in the trial of whether Hernandez murdered his friend, Odin Lloyd, in the early morning hours of June 17, 2013.

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Will she be called to testify? And if so, will she accept an immunity deal and possibly seal the case against the former New England Patriot or instead remain silent, stand in contempt of court and likely be jailed?

The couple wasn't officially engaged when prosecutors allege Hernandez, at the very least, "orchestrated" the killing of Lloyd in a field behind an industrial park near their North Attleboro, Mass., dream home.

Now she sports a giant rock on her left hand.

She's made only occasional visits to Hernandez's lengthy trial, which Tuesday heads into its 28th day stretched across parts of eight weeks. When she does, she sports dressed-up clothes and dolled-up hair. She always sits on the defense side, sharing smiles and brief snippets of conversation with Hernandez, who has repeatedly made sure to mouth: "I love you."

During opening statements, she hugged Hernandez's mother and had Hernandez's brother put her arm around her.

Across the aisle, on the prosecution side, sits her younger sister, Shaneah, the girlfriend of Lloyd, who comes far more regularly.

They – one sister whose boyfriend is accused of slaying the other's – do not speak or even share a glance.

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The prosecution believes Shayanna Jenkins can solidify the case against Hernandez, testifying about the guns he owned and the conversations he had in the days after Lloyd's body was found, and decipher what appear to be coded text messages sent to her.

Most importantly, she may be able to lead them to the Glock 21 Generation 3, .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol that prosecutors believe is the murder weapon, yet cops have never found.

The jury has been shown video of Jenkins carrying a black garbage bag out of the basement the day after Lloyd's death. She previously stated, according to court documents, it contained a "box" and some childrens clothing. She then drove off in a car she borrowed from her own sister and has testified she threw the bag in a dumpster, although she claims she can't recall its location. The Commonwealth has strongly implied the box contained the case's smoking gun and Hernandez instructed her to dispose of it.

Surveillance video shows Shayanna Jenkins leaving the house with a trash bag the day after Odin Lloyd's murder.
Surveillance video shows Shayanna Jenkins leaving the house with a trash bag the day after Odin Lloyd's murder.

Jenkins has thus far remained staunchly loyal to Hernandez, the football star she began dating at Bristol (Conn.) Central High School, where she ran track. She moved in with him in 2010, when he joined the New England Patriots. She spoke to police shortly after Lloyd's murder only to stop abruptly when, the cops say, she received a call from Hernandez.

She has her own legal issues, charged with repeatedly lying to a grand jury convened in the case, mostly about the presence of guns in their house. (Hernandez also faces weapons charges). The Commonwealth is eager for her testimony in this trial. A judge offered full immunity on those charges, as well as anything she would say on the stand.

Without the threat of facing charges, Jenkins can no longer invoke her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent against self-incrimination. She must testify or face contempt of court charges. If she chooses the latter, she could be ordered into custody by Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh and immediately hauled out of the fifth-floor courtroom here.

It is both the most anticipated and likely dramatic moment left in the trial.

Even if Hernandez and Jenkins quickly married it wouldn't afford her "spousal privilege" because the law only protects conversations after the marriage. Besides, the Bristol County House of Corrections he resides in doesn't offer such ceremonies.

Prosecutors may save Jenkins for last, leaving the jury with either influential testimony or a scene straight out of Hollywood that the defense would be left to clean up.

The Commonwealth could also decline to call her, believing its case is strong enough already. A juror could potentially feel sympathy for a young mom being compelled to testify against her fiancée or be sent to jail and thus lose her daughter. Especially if the Commonwealth believes she doesn't have much to say.

"Their relationship, in many ways, had what I refer to as a 'don't ask, don't tell' aspect," her attorney argued at a 2013 hearing that allowed Jenkins to avoid being immediately jailed.

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The prosecution believes she did ask and he did tell. As a tactical ploy, it has let as much of the trial play out before dealing with her.

By now Jenkins should see that the evidence against Hernandez is, while mostly circumstantial, both compelling and considerable. While anything is possible with a jury, at this stage, it appears he is far more likely to be convicted than not.

Then there are bits and pieces of testimony that may have strained the Hernandez-Jenkins relationship. At one point text messages were read in which Hernandez complained about Jenkins and stated he needed a friend to come over so he wasn't stuck spending an entire day with her. Jenkins wasn't in court that day.

And there is testimony from babysitter Jennifer Fortier that she and Hernandez kissed – two days before Lloyd was shot dead – and she had to stop his further advances. Hernandez, in a text message to Jenkins, apologized for getting too drunk and high that evening but didn't mention Fortier's presence at a nearby apartment he rented.

The practical play for Jenkins here is obvious to an outsider.

Babysitter Jennifer Fortier testifies during the murder trial of Aaron Hernandez. (AP)
Babysitter Jennifer Fortier testifies during the murder trial of Aaron Hernandez. (AP)

Hernandez's future is bleak. Even if he were to gain an acquittal in this case, he faces separate double homicide charges in Suffolk County (Mass.) stemming from a 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston. The evidence there appears even stronger than the Lloyd case. That trial could begin this summer.

Whatever money he made across three years in the NFL is likely dwindling fast, if not gone. He played two seasons under a relatively low rookie deal and earned just one season of a huge $40 million contract extension before being arrested. The Patriots have stated in civil court documents that they don't owe him a $3.25 million signing bonus. His defense team is high profile and likely equally high-priced. He faces a slew of civil suits for three separate shooting incidents, fatal and non-fatal.

Shayanna attended two years of community college in Connecticut before moving in with Hernandez. She could certainly cast out on a life with her daughter, sans a criminal record. A child support claim could get her to the front of the Hernandez creditor line.

Does she care more about Hernandez's future, or that of her daughter?

Her sister Shaneah, 23, has run a more independent course, graduating from Central Connecticut State and is currently enrolled as a student at New England College of Law in Boston.

What Shayanna turning state's evidence would do to her relationship with her sister is uncertain. The two sisters once happily spent days at Shayanna's McMansion, talking, shopping, getting their nails done as their boyfriends drank, smoked pot and played pool down in the basement man cave.

Does coming clean and piling on Hernandez help, or is the admission that for 21 months you were part of a cover-up make everything worse?

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Shayanna has thus far refused to flip, at least suggesting she'll choose incarceration over the deal. The defense has run on that presumption and is clearly desperate for her to remain silent.

Perhaps it's out of loyalty, pride or just stupidity. Perhaps it's fear of retribution for ratting out a man who is known to have violent friends. Perhaps she thinks her fiancée is innocent.

So everyone waits to see what Shayanna Jenkins is going to do next: blow this trial up or remain the forever-loyal girlfriend?

As this trial churns on, decision day is coming.

Boss Lady, indeed.

 

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