Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, who is already serving a life sentence for a 2013 murder, was acquitted Friday in a 2012 double slaying prosecutors said was fueled by his anger over a spilled drink.
The former tight end for the New England Patriots choked back tears as the verdicts were read in a Boston courtroom shortly after 3 p.m. Relatives of the victims sobbed loudly.
After six days of deliberations, the jury found Hernandez not guilty of first-degree murder in the killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. The jury also found Hernandez not guilty on three counts of assault with intent to murder, one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and one count of witness intimidation.
It convicted him of a single charge: unlawful possession of gun. The judge sentenced him to an additional four to five years in prison, separate from his existing life sentence, for that conviction.
Judge Jeffrey Locke thanked the jury for their "enormous sacrifice" in a trial that has lasted nearly two months.
"I thank you on behalf of the parties and the court," Locke said.
Defense attorney Ronald Sullivan, speaking to reporters following Hernandez's acquittal, attributed his team's win to "the absolute dearth of evidence that connected Mr. Hernandez to these shootings."
"We made justice happen," Sullivan added.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said he felt prosecutors put forward a strong case and there was enough evidence to convict Hernandez of murder.
"I wouldn't second-guess anything," he said.
The verdict comes almost two years to the day after Hernandez was found guilty of murdering semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee.
Prosecutors said Hernandez opened fire on a car, killing Furtado and de Abreu, because he felt disrespected when one of the men bumped into him and spilled his drink at a Boston nightclub.
The defense team pointed the finger at Alexander Bradley, a close friend of Hernandez who was with him the night of the shootings.
"He had been living with this for a long, long while -- the actual perpetrator of the crime was given immunity by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Sullivan said.
Bradley was the key witness for the prosecution and Hernandez's defense team hammered at Bradley's credibility, citing his immunity deal with prosecutors to testify against Hernandez, his role as the driver of their car the night of the shootings and his criminal record. Bradley is serving a five-year prison term in Connecticut for firing shots at a Hartford nightclub in 2014.
"We hope the public sees Aaron now for who he is," Sullivan said Friday. "A very good young man who happened to hang out with a really bad guy in Alexander Bradley."
Conley said the families of de Abreu and Furtado were devastated by the not guilty verdict.
"There's a lot of sorrow down there, a lot of grief," he said.
Conley also criticized the defense for attacking the character of the victims.
"It was very hard for me to hear Daniel and Safiro portrayed as gangbangers, as drug dealers, as gun-toting thugs," he said. "From everything we know about them, these were two hard working, humble Cape Verdean immigrants trying to make a life here in this country."
Jurors offered little comment after the verdict.
"We the jury heard from over 70 witnesses and over 380 exhibits across five weeks," jury foreman Lindsey Stringer said, reading from a written statement as the rest of the jury stood behind her. "We deliberated over six days. We based our decision on the evidence presented and the law."
Hernandez, 27, grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, and played for the Patriots from 2010 to 2012. About six weeks after Furtado and de Abreu were killed, Hernandez signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Patriots and went on to play another season before Lloyd was killed. He was cut from the team shortly after he was arrested in Lloyd's killing in June 2013. He was not charged in the 2012 killings until 2014.
Hernandez's conviction in Lloyd's killing will automatically be reviewed by the state Supreme Judicial Court.