The prosecution’s entire case in the double-murder trial against Aaron Hernandez hinges on the theory that Hernandez, enraged that Daniel de Abreu spilled a drink on him at a nightclub, retaliated some two hours later by opening fire on Abreu’s car, killing him and Safiro Furtado.
Then came Monday’s first defense witness, Antone Salvador, who may have just ripped apart the prosecution’s entire motive.
Salvador, a psychology doctoral student, testified Monday that he met Hernandez at the Cure Lounge that night in 2012. He said he was with Hernandez for 7-10 minutes and that at no point did he see someone spill a drink or Hernandez appear angry.
“Not at all,” Salvador testified.
In fact, Salvador said when he asked Hernandez for a photo, the former New England Patriot “politely declined,” only to relent when Salvador told him it was his birthday.
The time here is important, in that surveillance video shows that Hernandez was inside the club for only nine minutes, meaning Salvador’s testimony puts the two together nearly the entire time.
The two then re-engaged outside the club a few minutes later where Salvador thanked him for the photo.
“No problem,” Hernandez said. “Have a good night.”
With witness testimony expected to conclude by Thursday at the latest, it’s reasonable to ask if the prosecution has overcome its burden of proving Hernandez guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Consider:
• There is no forensic evidence directly linking Hernandez to the shooting.
• One witness to the murders initially told police the shooter “looks like a female” with cornrows.
• The only eyewitness fingering Hernandez as the gunman, Alexander Bradley, is an acknowledged drug dealer who admits to having a bone to pick with Hernandez.
• The defense revealed Bradley, who testified Hernandez shot him in the face to shut him up about the double murders, deleted a text message that stated he didn’t know for sure who shot him in the face.
The defense has contended all along that it was Bradley, not Hernandez, who was angry that night over a drug deal gone bad. That it was Bradley who wanted to exact some revenge. And that it was Bradley who pulled the trigger, killing Abreu and Furtado.
To this point in the trial, the prosecution hasn’t presented anything that unquestionably puts the gun in Hernandez’s hand, only a theory and an eyewitness with motive to lie.
Then Monday came the testimony of Antone Salvador, a psychology doctoral student, who described Hernandez as nothing more than polite.
Who’s a jury going to believe: the doctoral student or the drug dealer who admitted in court that he wanted to exact revenge on his former friend?
Whatever the outcome, Hernandez is going back to jail for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. But as this trial heads toward a jury as early as Thursday afternoon, another guilty verdict is anything but guaranteed.