Did an abrupt change in Aaron Hernandez’s mood while dancing in a Boston nightclub two nights before Odin Lloyd’s murder somehow relate to Lloyd’s death ... or was it completely irrelevant? Jurors on Thursday, the 30th day of Hernandez’s trial, heard testimony from Kasey Arma, a nightclub promoter who danced with Hernandez at the Rumor nightclub on June 15, 2013. Jurors also watched surveillance video of Arma and Hernandez on the dance floor.
Arma testified that she and a friend had attended a J. Cole concert at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston earlier in the evening. Upon hearing from J. Cole’s manager that the rapper would be at an after-concert party at Rumor, Arma and her friend made their way over. While at Rumor, Arma recalled, Hernandez tapped her hip as a way of drawing her attention. She initially snubbed him. A few minutes later, while standing with friends, Arma noticed that Hernandez was staring intently at her and also smiling. With encouragement from her friends, Arma then walked up to Hernandez and began a conversation.
Hernandez, according to Arma, told her his name was “Rock,” and he let Arna know that she “looked good” and that he wanted to dance with her. Arma said she initially refused to dance with Hernandez but then agreed as he pleaded for “just one dance.” As she began to dance with Hernandez, Arma recalled Hernandez acting in a “charming and pleasant” way. They continued to dance, Arma explained, for about five to 10 minutes.
Midway through a song, however, Arma remembered that Hernandez’s mood suddenly changed from relaxed to annoyed, and then he “abruptly took off.” Hernandez would return about 10 minutes later. According to Arma, Hernandez proceeded to grab her arm and pull her off the dance floor. “He was very aggressive,” Arma recalled, adding that Hernandez then directed that she walk with him to the entrance of the club. At that point, according to Arma, Hernandez told her, “Show me what you could do with that thing,” referring to her back end—a sexually suggestive remark that Judge Susan Garsh quickly struck from the record. Although Arma danced again with Hernandez, she found that, “He seemed irritated and aggressive. He just seemed a lot more agitated and on edge. He didn’t seem relaxed anymore.”
Arma also described seeing Hernandez outside Rumor during the “let out,” the period of time when bars begin to close and people who were inside congregate on the street. “He was pacing back and forth on the [street] corner,” Arma recalled. Although Hernandez “was shaking people’s hands,” Arma claimed that he kept to himself for the most part while standing on the street.
For Bristol County (Mass.) prosecutors, Arma’s testimony served to advance their theory that Hernandez became upset with Lloyd that evening at Rumor. Earlier this week, Kwami Nicholas, a friend of Lloyd who was also at Rumor that evening, claimed that Hernandez stared at Lloyd in a menacing way from across the dance floor. While Arma did not connect Hernandez to Lloyd, her depiction of Hernandez was arguably consistent with that of Nicholas, who also described Hernandez as furiously “storming” out of Rumor. To date, prosecutors have not introduced evidence that attempts to explain why Hernandez would have wanted Lloyd dead, but demonstrating that he may have been angry with Lloyd at least begins to establish a foundation for a motive.
Arma offers a far less dubious depiction of Hernandez during cross-examination
Arma’s characterization of Hernandez while answering questions from Bristol County assistant district attorney William McCauley may have alarmed jurors, but Arma offered a more flattering depiction of Hernandez while answering questions from Hernandez attorney Michael Fee. For starters, Arma admitted that she, and not Hernandez, initiated their conversation. “It was an ego thing to get Aaron to dance, wasn’t it?” Fee insisted. Arma conceded that it was. While the identity of which of Arma and Hernandez began their conversation may seem trivial, it could prove meaningful to jurors in deciding how much confidence they place in Arma’s testimony. After all, Arma admitting during cross-examination that she approached Hernandez seemed at odds with her earlier testimony suggesting Hernandez sought her out.
Arma, who said she had been to Rumor 10 to 15 times, also agreed with Fee’s statement that Hernandez acted “kind of like a wallflower” that night and that she had seen him acting similarly other nights at Rumor. Hernandez, according to Arma, typically liked to stand alone near the disc jockey. This was a significant point for the defense given that Nicholas had placed Hernandez in that same location when testifying that Hernandez stared down Lloyd. If Hernandez, as a matter of custom, simply liked to stand by himself at a particular dance floor spot and then stare into the crowd, his alleged staring at Lloyd would seem much less disconcerting to jurors.
Fee also made sure Arma mentioned that she observed Hernandez encounter autograph and photograph seekers while inside and outside the nightclub. Along those lines, Arma concurred with Fee’s statement that “people were flocking to him to get his autograph.” Hernandez being hounded by fans would make him exiting the nightclub at a brisk pace seem logical. Arma also acknowledged that Hernandez tried to whistle at her while outside the nightclub, a point implying he had not become angry.
Arma also gave Fee an opportunity to imply that prosecutors may have coached her memory of her nightclub encounter with Hernandez. Arma, for instance, recalled meeting with law enforcement at her home and going over what she saw. She also referred to McCauley, the lead prosecutor and an assistant district attorney, simply as “Bill,” a strikingly informal moniker and one that suggests Arma may have spoken with McCauley regularly. Fee pounced on Arma’s reference and thereafter also called McCauley “Bill” while speaking with Arma.
Lastly, Fee tried to undermine Arma’s testimony by getting her to admit she exaggerated her initial statements to law enforcement. Fee asked her whether “tons of guys were grabbing you ... 50 guys grabbed you at Rumor,” assertions that Arma apparently made to law enforcement. Arma conceded that it “was an exaggeration” to claim so many men were “grabbing” her. Fee hopes that jurors regard other portions of her testimony as also being exaggerative and less reliable.
Michael McCann is a Massachusetts attorney and the founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. He is also the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law.