Wednesday, 26. June 2013
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested at his home early Wednesday morning. Less than two hours later, the Patriots announced on Twitter that they had released the embattled tight end.
The Bristol County District Attorney’s office released a statement on Wednesday announcing the arrest, and later announced the tight end was being booked on one count of murder and five counts of weapons possession. There had been reports earlier in the week that police were going to charge Hernandez with Obstruction of Justice, but it appears that he’ll face a much more serious charge.
Hernandez has been under the spotlight ever since police discovered the body of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd near his Massachusetts home. Odin was dating the sister of Hernandez’s girlfriend at the time of his death.
Although the basic premise of our legal system is the thought that a person is “innocent until proven guilty”, Hernandez’s actions leading up to his arrest lead people to believe he may know more than he’s letting on.
According to investigators, in the days after Lloyd’s death, Hernandez took the following actions:
- Hired a cleaning crew to clean his house.
- Destroyed his home security system.
- Turned over a smashed cell phone when police asked to collect it for evidence.
Now, none of these actions in and of themselves constitute a crime. It’s possible Hernandez simply needed to have his house cleaned, and there’s no crime in smashing your cell phone. The biggest red flag is his decision to break his home security system. Why would someone destroy a system that provides security and video surveillance of his property? Maybe the monthly bill was too high and he wanted to end his contract with the security company in his own way. Or maybe the reasons are more sinister.
Authorities searched Hernandez’s home over the weekend, and they also sent a team to sweep the lake near where Lloyd’s body was found. Law enforcement officials said the search of the lake did not turn up anything significant, but they did take boxes of evidence from Hernandez’s residence. They are also searching for a mirror that broke off of a vehicle that was rented under Hernandez’s name.
Although more will likely come out during questioning, police already know that Hernandez partied with the victim in the days leading up to his arrest. Hernandez was seen at a nightclub with Lloyd early Saturday morning, and forensic analysts place the time of death between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. Monday morning.
Looking at the Law
We sat down with Criminal Defense Attorney Avery Appelman to discuss how this case may play out. Appelman first directed us to Minnesota statute 609.495, which outlines the charge of Aiding an Offender.
Subd. 3. Obstructing investigation. Whoever intentionally aids another person whom the actor knows or has reason to know has committed a criminal act, by destroying or concealing evidence of that crime, providing false or misleading information about that crime, receiving the proceeds of that crime, or otherwise obstructing the investigation or prosecution of that crime is an accomplice after the fact and may be sentenced to not more than one-half of the statutory maximum sentence of imprisonment or to payment of a fine of not more than one-half of the maximum fine that could be imposed on the principal offender for the crime of violence.
That means even if Hernandez is only found guilty of Aiding an Offender, he could still face 10-30 years in prison if the principal offender is found guilty of murder. According to Appelman, someone who destroys evidence is known as an “accomplice after the fact.”
At the time of publication, authorities had not yet released the charges against Hernandez. Although he may eventually face a charge of Aiding an Offender, it eventually came to light that he was arrested on counts of murder and weapons possession.
The following comments are from lead attorney Avery Appelman.
Aaron Hernandez is not in a unique situation. He is from a troubled background and every NFL team was aware of his gang connections, which was one of the reasons he was drafted in the 4th round when, as all scouts would agree, he possessed 1st round talent. In the current situation, should the news reports be correct, Hernandez had some form of relationship with the victim, Odin Lloyd. Lloyd was involved in a relationship with the sister of the mother of Hernandez’s newborn. They knew each other. USA Todays reports:
“Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, would not say how Lloyd knew Hernandez and did not say whether police told her how her son died. An uncle said Lloyd had a connection to Hernandez but wouldn’t elaborate.”
When folks who are aware of a relationship based in the streets, they rarely come forward, offering that explanation. It would not be farfetched to assume that Hernandez and Lloyd knew each other from the streets.
With the knowledge of their existing relationship and the tie between their significant others, the police can begin to focus an investigation. Add in the facts that Lloyd was shot in the back of the head and left in an industrial park not but a mile from Hernandez’s home, coupled with the fact that the two were observed on video surveillance shortly before the alleged murder would lead the police to form a suspicion that Hernandez had some involvement in the case, whether as the shooter or an accomplice.
Police also located a vehicle rented by Hernandez close to the murder scene, which elevated their suspicion that Hernandez played some role in the killing.
With that information, authorities decided to look Hernandez’s cell phone. A cell phone is normally a tremendous source of evidence; photos, videos, text messages and phone call logs are all useful for developing a timeline and potential motive.
With the cell phone destroyed and all the corresponding information, the police would obtain a search warrant for Hernandez’s home. They arrive only to discover that the security system, which has video capabilities, was damaged and all video destroyed. Next the police learn that Hernandez hired a cleaning crew the day of the murder to thoroughly scrub his home. These are all questions that are lingering.
Hernandez is acting suspiciously. The evidence shows there is a relationship, they had been together shortly before the murder, the murder happened close to Hernandez’s home, potentially involving one of Hernandez’s rented vehicles, his cell phone was destroyed and his home video surveillance system was damaged. The action in destroying the cell phone and security system is problematic under the Minnesota Obstruction of an Investigation statute. If the cell phone had video or photographic evidence of the crime or the home security system showed people entering his home spattered with blood, that would be evidence that would further the investigation and Hernandez’s actions in destroying it to protect someone would make him an accomplice after the fact.
If Hernandez was my client, first and foremost we would need to have a private discussion about the night of the offense. Obtain the details of the who, what, where, and when. Next we would delve into his relationship with the victim and any documentable ties between them. We would need to send out an investigator to uncover these ties. We would need to speak with any witnesses that were present that night, that could offer Hernandez an alibi or share information on the crime. Once the police have formed a conclusion, they have a tendency to view evidence from that perspective. Armed with information from witnesses, we would begin to deflect the investigation away from Hernandez.
Now that he has been arrested, his attorneys will once again have to evaluate their course of action, but Hernandez should remain quiet unless there is definitive evidence that can clear him of any wrongdoing. That seems like a long shot at this point.
We’ll keep all eyes on the case as it plays out.
Related sources: ESPN, USA Today, ABC News