The real killer of two men in a hail of gunfire at a stoplight was not former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez but rather the government's star witness in the double murder trial, Hernandez's attorney alleged Wednesday in opening statements, revealing the defense strategy for the first time.
Attorney Jose Baez, known for winning an acquittal for Florida mom Casey Anthony in the death of her daughter, 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 told jurors Bradley fatally shot Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado over a drug deal.
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Prosecutor Patrick Haggan told the jury 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, killing both men and wounding a third man.
Haggan said the encounter to most people would be "simply trivial," but Hernandez misinterpreted it as a sign of disrespect.
Haggan said Hernandez and the two men he's accused of killing came from "very different worlds." Furtado and de Abreu were working-class immigrants from Cape Verde, while Hernandez, Haggan said, was a star athlete, "a celebrity in the city of Boston."
"By pure coincidence, those two worlds collided," Haggan said.
Hernandez and Bradley were only in the club for 10 minutes that night. Haggan said Hernandez became angry when de Abreu accidentally bumped into him while dancing, spilling Hernandez's drink, then smiled at him.
"To Aaron Hernandez, that smile said it all. That was a sign of disrespect, and Aaron Hernandez was furious," Haggan said.
Haggan said video surveillance from outside the club shows Bradley trying to calm down an agitated Hernandez. Two hours later, Hernandez saw the men's car at a stoplight, grabbed a gun from the glove compartment and called out to de Abreu and Furtado.
Haggan said Bradley will testify that Hernandez said, "Yo, what's up now?" and added a racial slur before leaning across Bradley in the driver's seat and firing five bullets into the car.
Haggan said Hernandez trusted Bradley not to tell police about the crime until seven months later, when Bradley made the mistake of mentioning the Boston shootings to Hernandez.
"At that point, Aaron Hernandez knew that he could no longer trust Alexander Bradley," Haggan said.
The next day, Hernandez shot Bradley point blank in the head, he said. Bradley lost his right eye, but survived. Hernandez is charged with witness intimidation in Bradley's shooting.
Hernandez's lawyer told jurors Bradley is a drug dealer with a violent criminal history who told "lie after lie after lie" to save his own skin. He said prosecutors and police did not thoroughly investigate Bradley and instead fixated on Hernandez, who they saw as a "notch in their belt." He repeatedly referred to Bradley as a drug dealer/killer."
Baez told the jury there is no DNA, no fingerprints and no other forensic evidence linking Hernandez to the killings.
He also suggested de Abreu knew Bradley and that the two men had a dispute over drugs.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this did not happen over a spilled drink. This happened over a drug deal," he said.
But de Abreu's sister, Neusa Abreu, testified Wednesday that her brother did not use drugs and had never mentioned Bradley's name.
Hernandez, now 27, already is 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.
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.