Mysterious box crucial in Hernandez's fiancee's testimony on Monday
Monday will be another key day in the trial of Aaron Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd, as Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, will complete her direct testimony and also face cross-examination by Hernandez’s attorneys. Jenkins, who has been granted immunity from prosecution for her involvement in Lloyd’s death, began her testimony on Friday. As explained last night on SI.com, Jenkins admitted to jurors that Hernandez requested she meet up with co-defendant Ernest Wallace hours after Lloyd’s death and provide Wallace with $500 dollars. Jenkins also admitted that she carried out Hernandez’s request by withdrawing money from an ATM and handing the cash over to Wallace outside a McDonald’s restaurant in East Greenwich (R.I.).
The most significant portion of Jenkins’s testimony on Monday will likely center on her removing a “box” from Hernandez’s home. This “box” was referenced in a cryptic text message sent by Hernandez to Jenkins while Hernandez met with police about 21 hours after Lloyd’s death. Jenkins is expected to admit that, per Hernandez’s request, she placed the box in a trash bag, which she then put into the trunk of her sister’s car that was parked in Hernandez’s driveway. Jenkins then drove off and discarded the bag and its contents.
We know this because without jurors present on Friday, Jenkins answered, “I believe so” to McCauley’s question to her about Hernandez “calling you and saying it was important that you remove the box.” Jenkins also responded “yes” to McCauley’s question, “It was important for you to get rid of the item?” and she replied “that’s correct” to McCauley’s question, “Were you attempting to [remove the box] in a way so that people didn't know what you were doing?” Discussion of the box and thrash bag will come up again on Monday but this time jurors will be present and listening to Jenkins’s answers.
What will Jenkins say about the box and what she did with it?
Jenkins covertly removing the box at the behest of Hernandez does not itself implicate Hernandez in Lloyd’s murder, but it might depending on how Jenkins explains her actions. Prosecutors want Jenkins to say she removed the box because it contained the murder weapon. Defense attorneys want Jenkins to say she removed the box because it contained illegal drugs.
Here is a range of possible explanations by Jenkins and their potential impact on Hernandez’s guilt or innocence:
• For prosecutors, the ideal explanation offered by Jenkins would be that Hernandez told her to remove the box because in it was the gun he used to shoot Lloyd. A statement along these lines would be disastrous for Hernandez and his attorneys. On cross-examination, Hernandez’s attorneys would aggressively challenge Jenkins’s recollection and contend she has cut a deal with prosecutors to falsely implicate Hernandez in order to save herself from going to prison.
• Another incriminating explanation by Jenkins would be that Hernandez told her to remove the box because in it was the gun used by Ortiz or Wallace to kill Lloyd. Hernandez can still be convicted of first-degree murder even if he’s not the shooter. This is due to Massachusetts allowing joint venture convictions, whereby accomplices who share the intent to murder and who significantly contribute to the murder can be found guilty of committing murder.
• A less incriminating, but still damning, response by Jenkins would be that Hernandez asked her to remove the box because it contained a gun or ammunition. Jurors could infer the gun was the murder weapon (or infer the ammunition was used in the murder), although jurors have also heard substantial testimony about other guns and firearm materials in Hernandez’s home that do not match the murder weapon or ammunition used in the murder.
• A more ambiguous response by Jenkins would be that Hernandez asked her to remove the box but gave her no reason to do so, and that she did not look inside the box. Jenkins would thus testify that she didn't know what was inside the box. Jenkins might explain her desire to remove the box without being detected as reflecting her anxiety about the fact that her fiancé was meeting with police and that her sister’s boyfriend had been murdered. It would be up to jurors to interpret her testimony and whether it connects Hernandez to Lloyd’s murder.
• From the standpoint of the defense, the ideal response by Jenkins would be that the box contained illegal drugs. Perhaps Hernandez told her to remove the box because it had illegal drugs and he wanted it out of the house. Or, perhaps Jenkins did the logical thing by looking into the box before removing it and saw that it contained drugs. With police searching around the house, it would have made sense to discard illegal drugs. If the box in fact contained drugs rather than weapons, the box would become an inconsequential piece of evidence—and Jenkins’s testimony about the box would serve as a significant victory for Hernandez and his attorneys.
One thing is for sure: Jenkins’s testimony on Monday could radically change the likelihood that Hernandez is found guilty.
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.