BOSTON – The real killer of two men in a hail of gunfire at a stoplight was not former NFL star Aaron Hernandez but rather the government's star witness in his double murder trial, his attorney charged Wednesday in opening statements, revealing the defense strategy for the first time.
Jose Baez, who is known for winning an acquittal for Florida mom Casey Anthony, said prosecutors want to convict his client so badly that they made "a deal with the devil," referring to Hernandez's former friend Alexander Bradley. Bradley has said he was with Hernandez the night of the shooting and is scheduled to testify against him, but Baez counters that Bradley fatally shot Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado over a drug deal.
Prosecutor Patrick Haggan told the jury earlier that Hernandez had a brief encounter with the men involving "a simple bump, a spilled drink and an exchange of looks" at a Boston nightclub in the early morning hours of July 16, 2012. Two hours later, Haggan said, Hernandez opened fire on the men's car as they waited at a stoplight.
Haggan said the encounter to most people would be "simply trivial," but Hernandez misinterpreted it as a sign of disrespect.
Hernandez, a former New England Patriots tight end, is already serving a life sentence after being convicted in the 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder as well as a charge of witness intimidation. Prosecutors say Hernandez tried to silence Bradley by shooting him in the face in 2013 because he was worried Bradley might implicate him. Bradley survived but lost his right eye.
But Baez countered in his opening statements that police did almost nothing to investigate the killings of de Abreu and Furtado until they zeroed in on Hernandez, whom they saw as a "notch in their belt."
Earlier Wednesday, a juror in Hernandez's case was dismissed after a police officer scheduled to testify told the court they had once coached a football team together.
Hernandez's lawyers were allowed to use a peremptory challenge to dismiss the juror. The case is now being heard by 15 people — 12 regular jurors and three alternates.
Hernandez, now 27, grew up in Connecticut and played for the Patriots from 2010 to 2012. The team released him in June 2013, shortly after he was arrested in Lloyd's killing.
Prosecutors in the double murder case have said that in the months before the killings, Hernandez had become increasingly convinced that people had been "testing, trying or otherwise disrespecting him" when he went to area nightclubs.
De Abreu, 29, and Furtado, 28, were close friends who attended high school and served in the military together in Cape Verde before coming to the United States and settling in Boston.
Baez gained fame during Anthony's 2011 trial on charges that she murdered her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. The case garnered national media attention after photos showed Anthony partying in the days after her daughter's disappearance.