A cousin of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez took the stand in his murder trial Tuesday after being ordered to testify, giving him a big smile and telling the prosecutor she couldn’t remember details of what happened in the days surrounding the killing.
Jennifer Mercado was granted immunity before being called as a witness by the prosecution, which has charged Hernandez with murder for the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd. Lloyd, 27, was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee.
Mercado smiled at Hernandez, 25, from the witness box as she testified, contradicting herself and saying her memory was bad. As she was questioned by prosecutor William McCauley, she told jurors dozens of times that she could not recall what she saw and did. She also said she couldn’t remember details she recalled for the grand jury that investigated the Lloyd killing.
“I don’t remember. It was a long time ago,” she said, after being asked about conversations she had with Hernandez after he was arrested.
She did say, however, that she remembered Hernandez telling her he was innocent.
When asked if there was something that interferes with her memory, Mercado said she takes medications for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and major depression.
Mercado’s sister, Tanya Singleton, who lives with Mercado, pleaded guilty to criminal contempt and spent seven months behind bars for failing to testify before the grand jury. Singleton has also pleaded not guilty to helping Hernandez co-defendant Ernest Wallace flee to Georgia after the killing. Wallace and Carlos Ortiz have pleaded not guilty to the killing and will be tried later.
Mercado described the relationship her sister had with Hernandez as close and said Singleton treated him as a son. Singleton’s oldest son, who is 8, in turn looked up to Hernandez as a surrogate father, calling him “Daddy Aaron,” she said.
On questioning from McCauley, Mercado first testified that she did not recall having a conversation with Hernandez about getting money or about getting money for her sister. But as McCauley pressed the point, she conceded she did talk to him about getting money for her sister to make her more comfortable with things like food and cosmetics while she sat in jail.
She also recounted conversations she had with Hernandez about why her sister, who had terminal breast cancer, was in jail.
Mercado said Hernandez told her: “She shouldn’t be there because she’s sick and because she doesn’t know anything.”
Speaking about his own case, “He said that he was innocent, that he didn’t do it, and that God would see it through,” she said.
Mercado also testified about drug use by Wallace and Ortiz, saying that the two smoked marijuana and that she believed they also smoked PCP, based on a particular smell of burning plastic. She said that when Wallace was on PCP, he would sweat a lot and act jittery, at some times scaring her.
“He would act crazy, erratic, argumentative, would sometimes scream. Mumbo jumbo like it wasn’t even English,” she said on questioning from Hernandez lawyer Charles Rankin.
Hernandez’s defense team has said in court filings that it wants to call David Greenblatt, an expert in PCP, to the stand. Both sides have said Wallace and Ortiz were seen smoking PCP on June 15, 2013. Prosecutors have opposed calling the witness, saying his testimony would be irrelevant because the two smoked PCP more than 27 hours before the killing. Greenblatt said in court papers that symptoms of PCP psychosis can include aggressive or violent behavior and can last for days.