Aaron Hernandez’s fiancée granted immunity in murder trial
(CNN) — The fiancée of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez has been granted immunity and could be compelled to testify at his murder trial, according to a decision released by the trial judge on Tuesday.
In early January, the fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, met with Bristol County, Massachusetts, prosecutors in what court documents call an immunity meeting, but the results of that meeting are secret, even from the Hernandez defense team.
“It allows the prosecutor to force her to testify in front of the jury without taking the Fifth” (Amendment against self incrimination), CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said of the order. “If she lies, she can still be prosecuted for perjury because a grant of immunity never (immunizes) someone against committing perjury on the witness stand.”
Hernandez, the former tight end who once had a $40 million contract, has pleaded not guilty to orchestrating the death of Odin Lloyd. He has also pleaded not guilty to weapons charges.
His co-defendants, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, have also pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.
Jenkins has been a regular at hearings for Hernandez. He has often been seen mouthing “I love you” to her.
Jenkins is on the prosecution’s witness list. It is not known whether her testimony will help or hurt Hernandez.
“Normally, a fiancée is not going to testify adversely against her true love,” said Callan, a former New York homicide prosecutor. But there is no privilege in Massachusetts allowing engaged couples to avoid testifying against one another.
Prosecutors suspect Jenkins of following instructions from Hernandez to get rid of the murder weapon from their home by removing the gun inside a box, putting it in a black trash bag, and borrowing her sister’s car to take the bag to a dumpster and throw it away. According to court documents, she doesn’t remember where. Her sister was the girlfriend of the victim and has already testified against Hernandez.
Prosecutors said Jenkins, Hernandez’s high school sweetheart, lied to a grand jury several times about the presence of guns in their North Attleboro home, among other issues. She faces possible jail time if found guilty of perjury charges. She has pleaded not guilty.
Jenkins and Hernandez are the parents of a daughter who was just a year old when her father was arrested on June 26, 2013. Jenkins’ sister Shaneah was dating Lloyd, 27, who was shot seven times, according to a medical examiner.
Prosecutors allege that on the day after Lloyd’s killing, Jenkins got a coded text message from Hernandez.
Search warrants said Hernandez asked Jenkins to get something out of their basement.
“Go … in back of the screen in movie room when u (sic) get home an (sic) there is a box … jus (sic) in case u were looking for it!!! Member (sic) how you ruined the big tv … WAS JUST THINKIN bout that lol wink wink love u TTYL….K”
TTYL is shorthand for “talk to you later.”
A home surveillance video shows Jenkins leaving the house about an hour later carrying something “rigid” she described as a box, court documents state.
She placed it inside a garbage bag, covered it with children’s clothing, and carried the bag to a car and drove away, prosecutors said.
Jenkins borrowed her sister’s car, something her sister told investigators she had never done before.
When Jenkins returned home, she was seen on the same security system but without the “rigid” item. Jenkins told a grand jury she threw the item in a dumpster but couldn’t remember where, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors suspect the murder weapon was inside. It has not been found.
Hernandez’s lawyers have argued there’s no way of knowing what was in the box.
“I mean, who knows?” Hernandez co-counsel Jamie Sultan told the court in 2014. “It could be drugs, it could be something that was connected to this crime that he knew about, that he was covering up for somebody else after the fact. There are all kinds of possibilities.”
Hernandez’s defense team has filed a motion demanding to know what promises prosecutors may have made to Jenkins.
If she made a deal for a lesser charge or immunity, the jury will have to take it into account.
“The jury is going to look at that and say, ‘You know something? He must be guilty if even his fiancée would say that,'” said Callan.
“Or the defense would convince them that she’s made such a sweet deal with the prosecution that she’s decided to lie to implicate her lover,” he added.
Callan suggested that if Jenkins is put on the stand as a prosecution witness and repeats her grand jury testimony that she threw out the item without knowing what was inside and can’t remember where she disposed of it, she could put herself in greater legal jeopardy. That’s because, Callan said, prosecutors could later contend at a perjury trial that she repeated an alleged lie under oath.
“It’s going to increase her guilt if the prosecutor pursues perjury charges,” Callan said.