I won't pretend I predicted the outcome of the Aaron Hernandez murder trial prior to the jury announcing its dramatic murder 1 verdict, last Wednesday. I did discreetly tell folks beforehand the general rule of thumb is the longer a criminal jury deliberates, the greater the likelihood of either a guilty verdict or hung jury. But "rules of thumb" are never rules of law, and almost every rule has an exception. I also went on record telling others a week ago Monday, I thought there'd be a verdict by Wednesday or Thursday of that same week, so I was definitely spot-on about that last. But right up until the Foreperson said "guilty," I honestly saw the case going either way. That's why the jury's joint post-verdict press conference on Wednesday was in equal parts fascinating and instructive.
First, while not unheard of (we sometimes see it in after-the fact Prime Time TV specials), it was unusual for a jury to present itself, as a whole, for after-verdict press availability. Normally, post verdict juror interviews are conducted singularly or in small groups. They often have a near-clandestine feel and more often than not involve an "anonymous juror." When collectivity attempted, it tends to quickly dissolve into a scatter-shot and piecemeal presentation; much like the post verdict juror availability I experienced after the Clark Rockefeller verdict in LA, where I looked around the room and saw individual jurors, or small groups of jurors, being interviewed ad hoc by separate media in a near scrum-like atmosphere. What was unusual here was seeing all 12 jurors (and 3 alternates) standing together, answering questions together, agreeing with each other, and speaking as though with one voice. The sense of cohesiveness was remarkable, as was the sense they seemed to like each other. There was no awkward body language or eye-rolls whenever a particular juror spoke up. The overall impression they gave was of a jury that didn't appear to have had much strife, factionalism, divisiveness, or (dare I say) difficulty prior in reaching its verdict. In short, their demeanor and confidence (yes, even their smiles) suggested their unanimous verdict was not the product of brow-beating, entreaty, or even heated debate, but simply the end-product of careful, thorough, respectful and unified deliberation.
They also presented as being bright and articulate and, to the extent such things can be gauged, conscientious. Their discipline in declining to answer questions about the substance of their actual deliberations—consistent with Judge Garsh's admonition—indicated a propensity to follow rules and instruction; something they seemed to confirm when a number of them answered a reporter's question about when it was they decided Hernandez was guilty by repeating the presumption of innocence to which he was entitled, by which they claimed they viewed him right up until deliberations. Suffice it to say, while the Hernandez defense team will have a number of potential issues to work with on appeal including: failure to grant a change of venue; search warrant evidence they claim should have been suppressed; admission of the fact (but not substance) of text messaging between the victim, Odin Lloyd, and his sister during the 45 minutes leading up to his murder; the testimony of Alexander Bradley; and evidence/testimony regarding other firearms, one unlikely grounds (from what I saw last Wednesday) they won't have for appeal will be failure to follow the Court's instruction(s).
The other remarkable aspect of the jury press conference on Wednesday were the specific insights they shared on those facts and factors they said were either important, or unimportant, to their ultimate verdict. On the important end, was the testimony of Robert Kraft, of whom a number said they had never heard (another factor that the prosecution may use during the appeal process to counter any claim of error regarding failure to grant a change of venue). One juror in particular commented about Hernandez telling Kraft he hoped the timeline of the murder would come out so he could show he was somewhere else (I'm paraphrasing).At the time of this testimony, I wondered if its purpose was to demonstrate that Hernandez knew details of the murder that hadn't yet been released (i.e., he knew things only the murderer could have known). Sure enough, this particular juror commented that despite almost three months of testimony they (the jury) still didn't know the time of the murder, so how could Hernandez? It was also interesting that another juror cited somewhat overlooked evidence as being important to his decision, the rusted .22 found in weeds near the murder scene, with a serial number traced to a firearms transaction involving a FL resident named Oscar Hernandez (no relation). While the jury didn't elaborate, an inference was left that they may have believed there had been multiple guns at the scene, (perhaps) supplied by Hernandez. And believe me the jury definitely believed Hernandez had access to guns, as evidenced by their collective laughter and answer along the lines of "which one" or "which time" when a reporter asked them about a his possession of a firearm. (It was never stated, and won't be, but my assumption is that evidence that guns were a part of Hernandez' life and personal culture made it a lot easier for the jury to envision him using one.) The jury's comment about their conviction not being based on one thing but so many things (or however they phrased it—I'm going from memory here and was admittedly distracted watching their presser because I was giving simultaneous TV commentary) was also instructive in that it revealed that they not only understood the concept of circumstantial evidence but also, contrary to public opinion and commentary, considered the evidence to be strong and compelling as opposed to weak and lacking.
I was interested that there wasn't a single question on the issue of joint venture (Okay, I give up trying to insist it be properly referred to as Joint Enterprise as opposed to the more general, and broadly, defined Joint Venture. Nobody seems to be listening!). This suggests they either believed Hernandez was the shooter, or had no problem believing anyone else that may have been the shooter either would have done it without his blessing (or would have dared to, without it) or shared with him the intent to murder. Despite their clear unanimity, I was interested that the only place the jury did seem to struggle was on the issue of premeditation, which struck me as moderately inconsistent with their apparent belief there were at least two guns on scene. That their verdict instead suggests they readily embraced murder with extreme atrocity and cruelty as the alternate theory by which they found murder 1 liability leaves me with little doubt they felt Hernandez was responsible for, and should be held accountable Lloyd's murder. It also leads me to believe (again) that they concluded Hernandez was the actual shooter, especially given their references to the excessiveness of six shots fired into Lloyd's body. Their group laughter when asked if they believed Hernandez' fiancée Shayanna Jenkins, said more than any words could express and speaks poorly to her prospects regarding her open perjury case, where she still faces a penalty of up to twenty years if convicted (although consideration will be given to the question of who will be left to parent the couple's toddler), and certainly justifies the prosecution's decision to call her as a witness in the first place. I admit I couldn't have been more wrong in my earlier second guessing of that move.
And what about the lawyer's themselves? Despite a losing effort, I think the defense team did an exemplary job, contesting every issue, big and small, holding the prosecution to its burden of proof step by arduous step, arguing issues of law and fact with equal vigor, and zealously representing their client. There is no question in my mind he got the "million dollar" defense he paid for, and his lawyers acted like the experienced veterans and skilled tacticians they are from start to finish. As for Hernandez' lawyer's concession in his closing that Hernandez was, in fact, at the murder scene? Yeah, it raised my eyebrows, but I understand why he did it; the tire tread evidence, the sneaker in-print, his client's DNA on the marijuana joint at the murder scene. Those are all tough obstacles to overcome on the question of presence. Still, one has to wonder about all the expended effort and hard work attacking the credibility of forensic specialists and criminologists through whom that particular evidence was introduced, if the plan all along was to concede "mere presence" (and whether the jury subsequently saw the defense's aggressiveness in that regard in a different, less favorable, light once Hernandez' presence was conceded) as well as the wisdom of tending to play into the prosecution's ultimate theory of liability in one's own summation to the jury. Should they have left it alone, especially in light of the inherent flaws and exploitable weaknesses in the PCP defense I predicted might be forthcoming prior to both sides opening? Perhaps, but you can't blame them for trying to cover all possible bases. Given the jury's cumulative commentary on the strength of the evidence it wasn't likely to have been the difference maker, anyways. And the prosecution? Plodding, methodical, calm, mostly dispassionate, and boring; in short, precisely the right approach for a primarily circumstantial presentation in which your "house" is built brick by brick rather than assembled with prefabricated sections.
In the end, though, two things in particular stood out for me in the verdict's immediate aftermath. The first was the dignity, poise, grace and equanimity the victim's grieving mother communicated and conveyed during her impact statement to Judge Garsh, in which she expressly forgave Hernandez and "any hands who had a hand" in her son's murder. Despite having been on both sides of impact statements as a murder prosecutor and murder defense attorney, I don't think I've seen anything quite as moving, eloquent, heartfelt and impactful. The second, is the image of Hernandez' slow bus ride north, not to receive cheers on his disembarkation from adoring crowds at Gillette Stadium but to start off the rest of his natural life sentence at MCI Cedar Junction (the DOC processing/classification center), a mere 3-4 miles beyond in Walpole.