The trial of Aaron Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd shifted in focus on Monday, the 32nd day of the trial, to the less threatening, but nonetheless important five firearm charges Hernandez faces in connection to Lloyd’s death.
Bristol County (Mass.) prosecutors walked witnesses through a series of financial transactions that involved Hernandez depositing $1.8 million into his Bank of America account while staying in Hermosa Beach, California in April 2013 and then transferring $15,000 to the Bank of America account of the parents of Hernandez associate Oscar “Pappoo” Hernandez (no relation to Aaron Hernandez) in Belle Glade, Florida. Oscar Hernandez, who unbeknownst to jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial has pleaded guilty to gun charges, allegedly used the $15,000 to help obtain and transport two .22-caliber Jimenez pistols and a semi-automatic 7.62-caliber rifle to Massachusetts. One Jimenez pistol was found in a wooded area near the body of Lloyd while the rifle was allegedly found in Aaron Hernandez’s garage. To be clear, these guns are not the same as the .45-caliber Glock pistol prosecutors contend was used to shoot Lloyd. But they are significant, particularly if jurors decline to convict Aaron Hernandez on murder. Aaron Hernandez would face up to nearly 30 years in prison if convicted on the five firearm charges.
To convince jurors of a link between Aaron Hernandez and the guns, Bristol County assistant district attorney William McCauley first asked Bank of America teller Heidi Carrera to recall the day in April 2013 when Hernandez transferred the $15,000. She confirmed the transaction occurred. During cross-examination, however, Hernandez attorney James Rankin asked Carrera to also verify that the transaction was not unusual. Carrera acknowledged Hernandez had visited the bank before for transactions in excess of $10,000 and she also observed that customers would try to interact with him. Rankin hopes that jurors regard Hernandez wiring a substantial amount of money to Oscar Hernandez to be common behavior for the former New England Patriot rather than indicative of suspicious activity. The fact that Aaron Hernandez would use a public setting like a Bank of America branch to transfer money could also signal there was nothing nefarious with the transaction.
Another witness important to establishing the gun link was Gladwyn Dolores Skeete-Hernandez, the mother of Oscar Hernandez. Skeete-Hernandez testified that her son was not working in April 2013, but that he told her he had “made” the $15,000 that had been wired to her Bank of America account. She also detailed how $3,000 of the amount was used to buy a car. Oscar Hernandez’s credit card statement indicated the shipping of a Toyota Camry, later found in Aaron Hernandez’s garage, to Shayanna Jenkins.
Later, jurors heard from Belle Glade resident Gion Jackson, who testified on the condition of immunity. Jackson, a friend of Oscar Hernandez, admitted that in April 2013 he purchased a .22 Jimenez pistol for $185.19. Jackson stressed, however, he had nothing to do with the gun being found near Lloyd’s body in North Attleboro (Mass.) two months later.
Jackson recalled going to the True Value hardware store near his house to buy the gun. As Jackson explained it, he wanted the gun because of its small size and also as a response to a surging crime rate where he lived. “I needed something for protection,” Jackson recalled, “A lot of kids did a lot of shooting.” While at True Value, Jackson testified that he ran into Oscar Hernandez.
Jackson then told the court he bought the gun, drove home and placed it into the trunk of his car. He insisted he never again looked at the gun nor did he speak with Oscar Hernandez again before Lloyd’s murder. He also noted that he never sought to buy ammunition for the gun.
Two months later, ATF agents showed up at Jackson’s home and asked him if he knew why his gun was found at a murder scene in Massachusetts. Jackson asserted he had no idea why the gun would have been in Massachusetts. To corroborate his account, Jackson emphasized there was no damage to the trunk of his car and thus he had no reason to know the .22 pistol had been removed. Jackson also stressed he “doesn’t remember” if Oscar Hernandez might have borrowed his car between April and June.
During Jackson’s testimony, Judge Susan Garsh warned jurors, “Testimony of an immunized witness should be scrutinized with particular care.” By receiving immunity, Jackson cannot be charged with a crime relating to the gun so long as he avoids committing perjury (knowingly lying while under oath). Jurors might wonder about certain aspects of Jackson’s testimony. For instance, it seemed a little odd that Jackson would buy a gun because of concern about crime near his home but then place the gun in his car’s trunk and never obtain ammunition or even want to look again at the gun. Jurors might also question why Jackson remembered that his friends borrowed the car but he couldn’t remember if Oscar Hernandez did so. Testimony by Oscar Hernandez’s mother that Jackson stopped by her home last week unannounced could also raise questions about whether Jackson’s testimony might have been somehow coordinated with Oscar Hernandez. Lastly, Jackson acknowledged during cross-examination that he doesn't know Aaron Hernandez, a point that in jurors' minds might distance Jackson's gun purchase from Aaron Hernandez.
Expect additional evidence in the days ahead that attempts to strengthen the prosecution’s case that Aaron Hernandez unlawfully possessed firearms.
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.