FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) – Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez peers into a monitor as it displays evidence in his murder trial.
One day, there is a photograph of him smiling next to his fiancee on Father’s Day, a few hours before the killing. Another shows Hernandez on video dancing at a gas station minutes before prosecutors say he picked up the victim.
And still another shows the bullets that killed Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013.
Hernandez has watched the case against him unfold for more than a month, taking notes but also taking time to banter with his attorneys or make eyes at the high school sweetheart who could be called to testify against him.
Hernandez is accused of killing Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee. Lloyd’s body was found in an industrial park near Hernandez’s home. At the time, Hernandez had a $40 million contract as one of the Patriots’ star tight ends. The year before the killing, Hernandez played in the Super Bowl and caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady.
The trial began in January, and now Hernandez spends his days – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. – in a courtroom, with one 15-minute morning break and an hour break for lunch.
Hernandez is slighter now than he was June 26, 2013, the day he was arrested in Lloyd’s killing. But there are still flashes of the old football star.
He often enters the courtroom with a swagger. The first time he was in court after his former team won the Super Bowl last month, he greeted his lawyer with a big hug. He can sometimes be overheard talking high school sports with his lawyer and a court officer.
One of Hernandez’s lawyers, Michael Fee, would not comment when asked last week how Hernandez is doing. The judge has directed lawyers not to speak to reporters about the case.
For the most part, Hernandez appears to pay close attention to what is happening in the courtroom, even when it is dry and technical. He stands respectfully for the 16 jurors when they enter and leave the courtroom and occasionally passes notes or whispers to his lawyers Charles Rankin, who sits next to him, and Fee and James Sultan, who sit at a table in front of him. He sometimes chuckles at the pointed questions and mannerisms of Sultan, who has aggressively gone after some witnesses in the case.
Hernandez can be more interesting to watch when the jury is not there. One day, with the jury out of the courtroom, a high school teammate of Hernandez’s came in to be questioned. Robert Paradis had told investigators Hernandez told him that he had a .45-caliber gun. He also said he opened a drawer at Hernandez’s home in California and found what he believed was a gun wrapped in a black shirt, and he picked it up but did not unwrap it. Hernandez gave Paradis the stink eye as he walked past, apparently trying to stare him down. Paradis looked unsettled.
The bench in the gallery behind Hernandez’s seat is typically reserved for his family members, but lately it has been empty more often than not. On some days, he steals sideways glances at the vacant seats.
By contrast, across the aisle behind prosecutors, several members of Lloyd’s family occupy the front row every day.
His mother, Terri Hernandez, who lives more than two hours away in Connecticut, occasionally attends the trial with aunts, uncles or cousins. His brother, DJ, a graduate assistant football coach at Iowa, attended the first two days in January but has not been seen at court since.
On days when his relatives come, Hernandez turns on the charm. He beams a dimpled smile to the front row and occasionally whispers jokes, once telling them that he wants coffee in the carafe that court officers give him at the defense table, but all they will give him is water.
Shayanna Jenkins, his fiancee and the mother of his 2-year-old daughter, comes sporadically. On those days, the two flirt and giggle together. Hernandez compliments her hair and winks at her.
Jenkins has been granted immunity to testify. That could allow prosecutors to compel her to take the stand. It’s unclear how much she is cooperating or whether she would testify if called.
On Friday, Jenkins attended the trial for the first time in more than a week, along with Hernandez’s mother and others. Hernandez lit up when he saw them, thanking them for coming. Jenkins was not wearing the huge diamond engagement ring she typically sports on her left ring finger, but it was not clear whether Hernandez noticed or why it was missing.
At the end of the day, Hernandez turned to look at her one last time.
“I love you, girl,” he said.
She just smiled.