Legal Analysis of Aaron Hernandez’s Guilty Verdict: First-Degree Murder

Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end, was found guilty at his trial for the first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd. Mr. Lloyd was found shot six times near Mr. Hernandez’s house in Massachusetts in 2013. Mr. Hernandez received a life sentence without the chance of parole.

WBEN asked Paul J. Cambria, Jr., a noted criminal defense attorney and senior partner at the Buffalo-based law firm Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, for his analysis of the trial.

The full interview is available at WBEN.

The end for the tight end

Mr. Hernandez had a $40 million contract with the Patriots prior to being charged with Mr. Lloyd’s death. Mr. Cambria was asked, based on his many years of experience, if he’d ever seen such a stunning reversal of fortune.

“It’s true,” Mr. Cambria replied. “I think of some others out there, like John DeLorean [who started DeLorean Motor Company and was later arrested for drug trafficking]. He was pretty much at the top of his game with a new automobile company, but you’re right: this is an unbelievable situation, and it seems like they’re going to allege that there were a number of violent situations that he was involved in. This is the end of this guy, that’s for sure.”

The evidence was circumstantial

WBEN’s interviewers noted that the weapon that killed Mr. Lloyd was not found, and that the trial was based on circumstantial evidence.

Mr. Cambria said, “People sometimes have a misunderstanding about [circumstantial evidence]. We have cases all the time where they don’t find the body, they don’t find the weapon, and you can still be convicted on circumstantial evidence. It’s just as good as direct evidence once you’ve ‘passed the test.’ In New York, for example, the jury will be given an instruction that all the circumstances have to lead to only one hypothesis, and that is guilt. If you find that that’s true, then that evidence is just as good as direct evidence.”

Asked to clarify the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence, Mr. Cambria gave hypothetical examples. “If you heard a shot, and you walk through a door and see someone with a gun and it’s smoking, and you look down and there’s a body and there’s blood coming out of it, that’s pretty strong circumstantial evidence.” He continued, “On the other hand, if you were to have a witness who actually saw the shooting, that’s direct evidence.”

A jury hearing circumstantial evidence would be instructed to consider whether other hypotheses are believable. “In the scenario I gave you,” Mr. Cambria said, “I don’t think there is another [believable] hypothesis. If, on the other hand, you open the door, and there were two or three people with guns there, or a gun was laying on the floor and two people were standing there and it wasn’t in someone’s hand, there are other hypotheses.”

About Paul Cambria

A member of Lipsitz Green’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense in addition to providing criminal defense representation. He practices across the country from the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.