Jurors got out of the courtroom and attended the alleged murder site in Day 6 of the Aaron Hernandez trial.
For the last week, jurors have heard testimony and seen visual exhibits about Aaron Hernandez’s mansion in North Attleboro (Mass.) and the industrial park located less than a mile from Hernandez’s home where the body of Odin Lloyd was discovered. Today they visited both locations, as well as the street where Lloyd lived and cellphone towers that prosecutors contend establish Hernandez was with Lloyd the night of the murder. Attorneys for Hernandez and the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office accompanied the jurors on these visits, which occurred on a chilly New England morning as temperatures hovered around 20 degrees with overcast skies above.
Visits to the scene of the crime and to other key trial locations can profoundly impact jurors. Think about the last time you visited a place for the first time that you had only heard about or had seen through photographs and videos. A location is most memorable when it is experienced first-hand. It is at that moment when lasting impressions are made.
To be sure, the industrial park where Lloyd was murdered looked very different this morning from the June morning in 2013 when Lloyd’s body was found with multiple gun shot wounds. But jurors now have a visual point of reference for the rest of the trial about the location that is the epicenter of the case. They’ll remember the tall trees that surround this industrial park, the mounds of asphalt that lay nearby and the sounds of machinery humming in the background. And, perhaps most importantly, jurors won’t forget the feeling of remoteness that those who visit the park routinely observe. At some point jurors will ask themselves not just, “Why was Lloyd killed” but “Why was Lloyd killed there?”
The visits to Hernandez’s home and the street where Lloyd lived are also sure to remain in jurors’ minds. The stark difference in living conditions was surely apparent to them. Lloyd lived with his mom and two sisters in a working class section of Boston. Hernandez, in sharp contrast, resided in a 7,100 square foot home with five bedrooms and six bathrooms in a relatively affluent suburb. While wealth and status have no bearing on Hernandez’s guilt or innocence, jurors may find Lloyd’s place in life much more relatable than that of Hernandez. Prosecutors hope they do.
On the other hand, seeing Hernandez’s home may have reminded jurors of how much Hernandez had to lose. Hernandez seemed to be on top of the world the day Lloyd died. He was just 23 years old and was recently awarded a $40 million contract. He was playing for arguably the most successful NFL franchise in the modern era, catching passes from future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and receiving tutelage from future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick. Hernandez was also living comfortably near his family and his lifelong Connecticut friends. He was a recent father and, in Shayanna Jenkins, engaged to a woman he loved. He had it all. And his lavish home, adorned by trophies, memorable photos and other symbols of achievement, only reaffirmed to jurors how much he had to lose.
Hernandez’s attorneys hope jurors walked away from Hernandez’s home today thinking, “It’s hard to believe he would throw this all away.” Those attorneys then want jurors to aggressively demand from prosecutors a clear reason why Hernandez would murder Lloyd and throw it all away. To date, the motivation for Lloyd’s murder remains unclear.
Taking the jurors to the cell towers may seem unnecessary, but prosecutors want jurors to see the close proximity of the towers to Hernandez’s and Lloyd’s cell phones while they were allegedly in the industrial park. Their first-hand view may also help the prosecutors retain jurors’ attention when they later present potentially dry, but nonetheless crucial testimony about cell phone triangulation results. Jurors may be more inclined to remain attentive if they personally know the cell phone towers that are being discussed by technical experts.
Jurors will head back to court on Monday. They will have a more familiar and intimate perspective on what they see and hear in the trial.
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.