How to Get Away with a Missing Murder Weapon

Prosecutors in the Aaron Hernandez case are piecing together evidence in the absence of an actual murder weapon.

Associated Press

Associated Press

They searched houses, they recovered impounded cars, they sent divers to the bottom of a Connecticut lake, but investigators never turned up the .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic they believe Aaron Hernandez used to murder Odin Lloyd. The lack of the murder weapon has been cited in the lead-up to Hernandez’s trial as one of the bigger challenges facing prosecutors.

But as the lawyers have made their case at trial in recent days, we’re now seeing how they plan to get around the lack of an actual murder weapon by piecing together other evidence. Using surveillance cameras from Hernandez’s home, and by hearing eyewitness testimony, the lawyers are trying to put a weapon that matches the one they believe killed Lloyd in Hernandez’s possession shortly before and after the murder.

On Tuesday, lawyers put Samson Michael, an account manager for the valet service at the W Hotel in Boston, on the stand. He testified that days before the murder, he observed Hernandez putting a “black object” into his waistband that looked like it might have been a square gun handle that matches the Glock’s. Today, jurors observed video stills from Hernandez’s home surveillance system that showed him just minutes after the murder entering his house and moving toward his basement with what also looks to be a gun.

So what happened to the weapon? For that, prosecutors heard from AT&T network engineer Christopher Ritchell, who described a text message Hernandez sent to his girlfriend Shayanna Jenkins while he was at the police station in the early investigation into Lloyd’s death. Prosecutors argue that the message was a code, asking Jenkins to remove the box containing the murder weapon from his basement.

“Go in back of the screen in movie room when u get home an there is the box avielle likes to play with in the tub jus in case u were lookin for it!!!! Member how u ruined that big tv lmao WAS JUST THINKIN bout that lol wink wink love u TTYL….k.”

Jenkins is then seen exiting the house with a box and later returning without it.

Defense lawyers will, of course, work to poke holes in this narrative. In cross examinations, they have challenged the valet manager’s memory and the reliability of his eyesight. The coded message to Jenkins, they point out, could be interpreted in any number of ways. Hernandez’s use of winky faces, and his storage of a box for his daughter behind a TV screen are strange, but they’re not exactly a, well…smoking gun.

Hernandez faces gun possession charges as well, so some of the testimony might carry import on charges aside from the murder. And the evidence around the murder weapon is only one set of details in a larger mosaic of evidence that the prosecutors hope to put together to prove Hernandez’s guilt. Still, the question of what happened to it has loomed over the investigation since the beginning. And now, we see how prosecutors intend to answer for its absence.