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3 Takeaways From the Aaron Hernandez Guilty Verdict

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

A jury found former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez guilty of first degree murder for a 2013 execution-style slaying. Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole for shooting Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who at the time was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee.

The jury took 35 hours over seven days to come to a verdict, so let's take a look at what they decided and what comes next for Hernandez.

What Is Extreme Atrocity and Cruelty?

Prosecutors charged Hernandez with first degree murder, which is defined by Massachusetts's General Laws as:

Murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought, or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, or in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life, is murder in the first degree. Murder which does not appear to be in the first degree is murder in the second degree.

There was a mountain of physical evidence tying Hernandez to the crime, but only circumstantial evidence that he actually pulled the trigger. The defense was even forced to admit in their closing arguments he was at the crime scene, but claimed that an associate murdered Lloyd.

The jury, however, found that Hernandez was not only guilty of the murder, but that he acted with extreme atrocity or cruelty. Judge E. Susan Garsh gave the jury explicit instructions on the charge, and it's possible that this discussion on the difference between first and second degree murder is what consumed the jury for much of their week-long deliberations. The verdict would indicate that they found the circumstantial evidence compelling enough.

Why No Death Penalty?

Those who followed the trial and verdict in the Boston Marathon bombing case, which was also in Massachusetts, may be wondering why Hernandez doesn't face the death penalty like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev does. The difference is that Tsarnaev's trial was in federal court, which still permits capital punishment, while Hernandez was tried at the state level, where the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court banned the death penalty in 1984.

Massachusetts statutes still reference the death penalty, however:

Whoever is guilty of murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, and who had attained the age of eighteen years at the time of the murder, may suffer the punishment of death...Any other person who is guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life.

But case law makes it unconstitutional. Instead, state law makes the punishment of life in prison automatic, and Judge Garsh sentenced Hernandez after a short hearing following the verdict.

What's Next for Hernandez?

Hernandez will be remanded to MCI Cedar Junction, a maximum security prison in Walpole, Massachusetts only a few miles from where he used to play his home games at Gillette Stadium.

Hernandez still faces charges on an unrelated 2013 double murder, as well as a civil suit that alleges Hernandez shot an acquaintance in the face. While Hernandez is likely to appeal his current murder conviction, the jury also found him guilty on weapons charges that could mean 3 to 5 years in jail.

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