Thanks to the anti-gun animus of the editors of the Palm Beach Post, who are trying to spin the Aaron Hernandez murder trial into an indictment of gun owners in general, we have a pretty good idea of how one gang member and murderer — Hernandez — got his weapons.
Would you believe, through straw purchases by fellow gang members, and other black-market sources?
Hernandez is a member of the Latin Kings gang and a former football player. (Maybe they have football in prison, so maybe not “former.” On the other hand, his jury of sports-addled Bostonians has been out for a very long time as we file this, so he might wind up with the benefit of a hung jury or an acquittal. But his guilt is established for all except rabid Patriots fans. Update: he was convicted Wednesday morning. Next phase: two more murder trials). You see, unlike most Latin Kings members, Hernandez had talents other than crime, to wit, football; he was a star tight end and a 2009 college All-American. Because of his gang affiliation, most of pro football scouted him and let the idea of signing him drop, but the Patriots organization thought they could salvage him, however mistakenly, and drafted him. Hernandez, after involvement in at least one other shooting, murdered a criminal associate named Odin Lloyd, for which he’s now on trial.
The Post had a Page 1 story on Monday, April 13, about Hernandez’s guns, sharing above-the-fold space with more usual Post “reportage,” a worshipful prose paean to a politician. The Hernandez story, by Joe Capozzi, tells the story of Palm Beach County’s own players in the story, such as Oscar “Papoo” Hernandez Jr., no relation to Aaron Hernandez (except inasmuch as they may have been gang brothers — the news reporting has always downplayed the gang element in the murder).
Aaron Hernandez’s connection to FL is clear — he was a star at the University of Florida before the NFL draft where no one but the Patriots would touch him. Papoo, of Belle Glade, FL, received a $15,000 wire from Aaron Hernandez, and then… shipped him a car. The car, a nondescript used Toyota Camry with its Florida plates still on, was found in Hernandez’s garage. But the transaction wasn’t about the car. The car contained something special for the gangbanging jock: at least three firearms.
The three firearms included two cheap .22s bought at True Value Hardware on Main Street in Belle Glade, a .22 Jimenez Arms pistol (one of the dirt cheap pot-metal .22s once manufactured in Southern California) that was found near Lloyd’s body (but was not the murder weapon). That particular .22 was bought on 15 April 2013 by a questionable character named Gion Jackson, who says…
- he bought it for self-defense;
- and then he put it in the trunk of his car;
- from which it must have been stolen, because when ATF traced the murder-scene gun in June 2013 from manufacturer to True Value to him, he didn’t know it wasn’t in his trunk any more; and,
- he often lends his car to random people so he has no idea who might have taken it.
- and oh, yeah, one more thing: he was at the store on 15 April and so was his good buddy Aaron Hernandez, at the same time, but they didn’t talk to each other and didn’t plan to be there together. He sure wasn’t buying the gun for his prohibited friend.
As implausible as that story is, Jackson got up on the stand and testified to it. As far as we know he’s not charged with anything.
The other .22 from True Value, also bought in April (although it’s not clear, by whom) wound up in a Providence, Rhode Island street, thrown down after an incident involving Hernandez, a gang-infused retinue, and a heckling Jets fan in May 2013..
The third firearm, a Hungarian AK clone, was also bought 15 April 2013 at the Delray Beach Shooting Center. We don’t know who bought it, because ATF couldn’t find the “James Joseph” who signed for it, but range and store owner Mike Caruso says he wasn’t Hernandez:
I can tell you that Aaron Hernandez didn’t buy it. I’m a big Patriots fan and if Aaron Hernandez walked into my gun store to buy a rifle, I would know who he was.
Well, Mike didn’t get to sell Hernandez (who was apparently a prohibited person anyway, for a record stretching back many years) a gun, but he did have this year’s Super Bowl, so there is that.
In any event, the three firearms were acquired on or about 15 April 13. It is surely the smallest of coincidences that Papoo received a wire from Aaron Hernandez on that day. (For $15,000; maybe the athlete was expecting a big tax refund). It is surely the smallest of coincidences that Papoo then stuffed the guns in a Camry and shipped it to Hernandez. And the least of coincidences that one would be found at an assault scene in Rhode Island the next month, one would be found at a murder scene in two months, and one (the AK) would be found in a black gym bag in the back seat of the Camry, in the accused murderer’s garage. Loaded.
That’s what ATF calls a short “time to crime.” A typical crime gun traveled in legitimate commerce for years before being stolen or otherwise diverted into criminal channels. Guns that turn up at murder scenes mere months from their legitimate legal sale are indicators of potential straw purchases and trafficking. Typically, the straw purchases in this case have not been pursued by ATF and the responsible US Attorney.
If Aaron Hernandez beats this rap, it’s not all roses for him. He’s still facing other charges, including two other murders, and five gun charges (including ones related to these exact firearms). The case has been interesting because it elucidates how criminal organizations like the Latin Kings move firearms in interstate commerce without leaving a trace (unless investigators can break or turn one of the human links in the chain).
It’s also interesting because, for all these weapons Aaron Hernandez was going through in his life of crime, one which has not turned up is the murder weapon he used on Lloyd — that pistol, a Glock .45, has never been recovered.