April 7, 2015 / 4:38 PM / 2 years ago

Witness or killer? Ex-NFL star's trial goes to jury

Shayanna Jenkins (L), the girlfriend of former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez, and his mother Terri Hernandez listen to the judge give instructions to the jury during his murder trial in Fall River, Massachusetts April 7, 2015. REUTERS/John Tlumacki/Pool

FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) - Jurors in the murder trial of former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez were asked by lawyers on both sides on Tuesday to decide whether the ex-athlete killed a man in 2013, or watched as one of his friends did it.

Hernandez, 25, is charged with murder and firearms violations in the death of Odin Lloyd, a semiprofessional football player who was dating his fiancée’s sister. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

After calling more than 130 witnesses in a trial that began in late January, attorneys jousted in closing arguments on Tuesday with Hernandez’s defense painting him as a witness to a “shocking killing” and prosecutors claiming he brazenly orchestrated the shooting.

“He was a 23-year-old kid who witnessed ... a shocking killing committed by somebody he knew,” said defense attorney James Sultan. “He really didn’t know what to do. So he just put one foot in front of the other.”

Assistant District Attorney William McCauley said the former tight end and two friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, picked up Lloyd at his Boston home before dawn on June 17, 2013, and drove him to an industrial park near Hernandez’s house in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, where they shot him dead.

He said Hernandez had become angry at Lloyd two nights earlier at a Boston night club, and that he “controlled every aspect of that trip” the night of the murder.

“He believed he could kill Odin Lloyd and nobody would ever believe that he was involved,” McCauley said.

Wallace and Ortiz have also pleaded not guilty to murder charges and will be tried separately.

Both Wallace and Ortiz used the drug PCP, according to a witness and court documents, and the defense team has sought to link use of the drug with violent behavior in an apparent attempt to shift blame for the murder on the pair.

Hernandez’s defense team also said Hernandez wouldn’t have killed Lloyd because they were friends, and shared “a passion for marijuana.” “Obviously they were friends,” Sultan told the jury. “They were future brothers-in-law.”

McCauley said there was “no evidence they were friends,” given the way Hernandez had behaved. He referred to surveillance video that showed Hernandez, Wallace and Ortiz relaxing by his pool hours after the slaying.

Hernandez had a $41 million contract with the Patriots. He was cut after his arrest in June 2013.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis, editing by G Crosse and Andrew Hay

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