NEW YORK (AFP) - Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday for the first-degree murder of a semi-pro football player two years ago.
The sentencing in a Massachusetts court after a four-month trial cements a spectacular fall from grace for the 25-year-old Hernandez, who once had a US$40 million (S$54 million), five-year contract with the New England Patriots.
The victim, Odin Lloyd, was a 27-year-old semi-pro football player whose bloodied body was found in North Attleboro, Massachusetts on June 17, 2013, less than a mile from Hernandez’s luxury home.
Lloyd had been dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee.
Hernandez glanced to the side and pursed his lips after the jury pronounced the first-degree murder conviction.
His mother and fiancee sobbed in the gallery.
Dressed in a sharp suit and tie, he sat down as the jury convicted him on two separate gun and ammunition charges.
The 12-person jury had taken seven days to reach the unanimous verdict. The murder charge carried a mandatory life sentence, imposed shortly after his conviction.
Hernandez also faces murder charges for the drive-by shooting of two men in Boston in 2012.
MOTHER FORGIVES SON'S KILLERS
Lloyd’s tearful mother Ursula Ward told the court that she felt her heart “stop beating for a moment” when she laid her son to rest, but that she had managed to forgive his murderers.
“I miss my baby boy Odin so much but I know I’m going to see him someday again and that is giving me the strength to go on,” she said, choking back tears.
“I forgive the hands of the people that had a hand in my son’s murder... I pray and hope that someday everyone out there will forgive them also,” she added.
The Patriots dropped Hernandez just hours after his arrest on June 26, 2013, nine days after Lloyd was found dead.
He has been in custody ever since.
Although the murder weapon was never discovered, analysts said the evidence against Hernandez was overwhelming.
Prosecutors called more than 130 witnesses in an effort to prove Hernandez pulled the trigger on the handgun that killed Lloyd.
He and friends Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz drove with Lloyd to an industrial park in North Attleboro, where Lloyd was shot multiple times and left for dead.
In his closing statement, defence attorney James Sultan acknowledged for the first time that Hernandez witnessed the killing, but claimed either Wallace or Ortiz pulled the trigger.
Wallace and Ortiz are to tried separately on murder charges.
“He was a 23-year-old kid who witnessed something,” Sultan told the court last week.
“A shocking killing. Committed by someone he knew. He didn’t know what to do.”
Prosecutor William McCauley had implored the jury members to convict Hernandez of first-degree murder.
The judge told members of the jury it was up to them whether they were willing to talk to the media in the wake of the verdict.
Hernandez has the right to appeal the conviction.