Alexander Bradley, the key witness in the murder case against Aaron Hernandez, was “honest to a fault” and stuck to what he believed he had seen, even when some evidence contradicted him.
“Doesn’t that prove that he was being forthright and honest?” Patrick Haggan, the lead prosecutor in the case, said. “Doesn’t that prove that detectives and prosecutors didn’t coach him what to say?”
Or, as the defense said, does it prove the witness’ testimony was littered with lies, like a meal filled with cockroaches? You don’t pick out the cockroaches and keep eating. You reject the meal completely.
“When the facts start contradicting Mr. Bradley, at what point do you send that meal back?” defense attorney Jose Baez said. “How many cockroaches do you need in your food before you send it all back?”
Those were the two contradicting narratives attorneys put forward in closing arguments Thursday in the double-murder trial against Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end.
Hernandez is accused of killing two men in a drive-by shooting outside a Boston nightclub in July 2012. He has previously been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the June 2013 shooting of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez did not testify in either trial.
The crux of the prosecution’s case centered on testimony from Bradley, a former friend of Hernandez who was granted immunity to testify against the former NFL star.
Bradley testified that Hernandez, angry after a man bumped into him at a nightclub and spilled his drink, shot five times into that man’s packed vehicle as payback. Bradley then drove Hernandez away in a silver Toyota 4Runner owned by Hernandez, he testified.
Two immigrants, Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu, were killed in the shooting, prosecutors said.
Months later, Hernandez shot Bradley between the eyes and left him to die in a parking lot in Florida, trying to get rid of the only witness to the Boston shooting, Bradley testified.
Bradley survived the shooting, making for dramatic courtroom testimony explaining how Hernandez allegedly carried out the shooting, hid the weapon and getaway car, and then turned a gun on his friend.
‘This guy has an incentive’
Baez, a demonstrative, made-for-TV attorney who became famous for his defense of Casey Anthony in 2011, attacked Bradley as a liar, violent criminal and a “parasite” out to extort Hernandez for money.
Baez said prosecutors had made a “deal with the devil” in giving Bradley immunity, and that he had an incentive to lie and tell the story prosecutors wanted him to tell.
“It’s the deal of a lifetime. He’s either there,” Baez said, pointing to the witness stand, “or there,” pointing to the defense table. “And that’s a big incentive.”
When Bradley testified, Baez repeatedly pushed him to admit he had dealt drugs for more than a decade and that he owned several machine guns. In addition, Bradley is serving a five-year sentence in Connecticut for shooting up a Hartford nightclub in February 2014, months after he provided sworn testimony to a grand jury in this case.
In closing arguments Thursday, Baez suggested that Bradley — not Hernandez — had carried out the shooting over a botched drug deal.
“This guy has an incentive, and all of this is lies,” Baez said.
Baez likened Bradley to a “three-legged pony” that prosecutors were riding to the finish line. With the families of the victims watching in the courtroom, Baez mimed smacking a horse on the butt and rode around.
“It does not matter that you’re a violent drug dealer,” Baez said, imagining prosecutors’ line of thought, “because we’re gonna ride you home and get an NFL football player.”
Prosecutors produced evidence that largely corroborated Bradley’s testimony.
They presented video that they said showed Bradley and Hernandez getting into the silver SUV used in the shooting. That vehicle was later found at the home of Hernandez’s cousin, “stuffed away” and growing cobwebs in the garage, prosecutors said.
In addition, a witness at the club the night of the shooting spotted Hernandez having an interaction with the victim. And cell towers placed Hernandez at the scene of the crime at the same time as the shooting, and then later driving away.
The parts that did not fit exactly show that Bradley was speaking truthfully from his imperfect memory, rather than saying what authorities may have wanted him to say, prosecutor Haggan said.
“He’s never changed that story,” Haggan said. “There are minor inconsistencies that make him credible.”
Finally, prosecutors pointed to the tattoos Hernandez got after the Boston and Florida shootings, which they said amounted to a confession.
One tattoo showed a revolver with five bullets in its chamber, the same number of shots fired in the drive-by shooting. Another tattoo showed a gun pointing outward, similar to how Bradley would have seen a gun to his face, prosecutors said.
Hernandez also got a text tattoo next to those images: “God forgives.”
“That is not random. That is not art. That is evidence,” Haggan said. “That is a confession.”