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Aaron Hernandez's tattoos could 'testify' against him

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Teardrops for murders. Spider webs for prison time. Penal code numbers for crimes committed.

Criminals have long used tattoos as indelible ink on their own bodily rap sheet. And for just as long, police have used tattoos as a way to identify suspects, a distinguishing characteristic to jog a memory or catch the public's eye.

But only rarely does body art play a pivotal role as evidence posited as proof of wrongdoing.

Prosecutors trying to convict former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez in a pair of homicide cases could try to use the one-time football star's tattoos against him: They are seeking the artists who worked on Hernandez, saying they could be witnesses.

Criminal justice experts, however, say it's hard for law enforcement to determine whether someone with a tattoo linked to a kind of crime actually did the deed. As Todd Bettencourt, a tattoo artist in North Attleborough, Massachusetts - the town where Hernandez was living at the time of the killings - said, "some people just get it because it's cool."

Much of Hernandez's upper body is covered in tattoos: The open-mouthed face of a lion sits atop his right bicep, ringed by the words "It's about the fight in you;" ''1989," his birth year, spans the fingers of his left hand and a 10-word phrase favored by his father, "If it is to be it is up to me," runs down his left forearm.

It is Hernandez's right forearm that has piqued the interest of investigators, though they will not specify which design they have focused on.

Hernandez is accused of fatally shooting two men - Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado - and wounding a third in Boston in July 2012. He also is charged in last year's killing of Odin Lloyd, whose body was found near Hernandez's home. And he is being sued by an associate who says Hernandez shot him in the eye in Miami last year.

Photos of Hernandez show he has had five stars and other tattoo work added to his right forearm over the past few years. While many star tattoos have nothing to do with crime, they can sometimes be used to represent killings, said Kevin Waters, a criminal justice professor at Northern Michigan University and former agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

"I would say the cops probably see the stars and know in some circles that a star does represent a kill and want a tattoo artist to come in and see if he (Hernandez) said anything about that," Waters said.

Every once in a while, criminal investigators do hit the jackpot. That was the case with Southern California gang member Anthony Garcia, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 65 years in prison in 2011 after a homicide investigator discovered that Garcia had the scene of an unsolved 2004 murder inked on his chest.

In April, an Indiana judge ordered William Clyde Gibson to grow out his hair to cover a new tattoo - "Death Row X 3" - before the twice-convicted murderer went on trial for allegedly killing a third person. That same month in Kansas, Jeffrey Chapman was given permission to wear a turtleneck to cover a tattoo of the word "murder" spelled backward on his neck, amid concerns it would prejudice the jury at his upcoming murder trial.

In Hernandez's case, officials said they have received several responses to their plea for information for tattoo artists who worked on him, but they wouldn't elaborate. Boston police and the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office said the artists would be considered witnesses and are not accused of any wrongdoing.

Even if investigators do find the artists who created the tattoos they are interested in, it's not clear they would talk. Artists say clients do often share personal information, but there is a split within the tattoo community about whether there is artist-client confidentiality.

Bettencourt, who said he never worked on Hernandez, said there are no clear rules and, besides, the stars on Hernandez's arm could have been added just as part of a design to make the tattoo work appear fuller.

But Joe Capobianco, a tattoo artist in New Haven, Connecticut, and a judge on the Oxygen Network television show "Best Ink," said there is definitely "an unwritten code."

Although he's never been put in such a position - he has a personal policy of not doing gang tattoos or designs that represent crimes - the code is clear.

"One does not ... rat on one's clients," he said.

Julio Rodriguez, an artist in Capobianco's shop, agreed.

"The stories I'm told are confidential and told to me in confidence, and that goes for even the cops I tattoo too!" he said in an email. "I hear both sides of the coin good and bad."

Messages seeking comment were left for Hernandez's lawyers. They have said Hernandez looks forward to proving his innocence.

Hernandez has said all his tattoos have personal meaning. The stars on his right forearm surround a tattoo depicting being in God's hands, which he told USA Today in 2009 was meant as a nod to his older brother and late father.

The motto frequently used by his father, "If it is to be it is up to me," holds special meaning, he told WBZ-TV in Boston.

"It's basically saying my life's in my hands, and whatever I want my life to be it's up to me to make it out that way," he said.

Join the discussion

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mackerace June 04 2014 at 1:30 PM

His next tattoo should be across his forehead, stating "I am a freakin' idiot"

Flag Reply +75 rate up
5 replies
Ed June 04 2014 at 1:26 PM

This guy has to be the dumbest pos on the face of this planet. A $40 million contract down the tubes. Unbelievable...

Flag Reply +53 rate up
7 replies
Paul June 04 2014 at 1:22 PM

Maybe the NFL should not allow people with GANG TATTOOS and the meat-head attitude to be hired.

Flag Reply +38 rate up
9 replies
jtdancernh June 04 2014 at 1:14 PM

TRASH.

Flag Reply +35 rate up
2 replies
realestate042 jtdancernh June 04 2014 at 1:36 PM

He's a thug - a criminal who was lucky enough to get into sports. Kind of like many others in certain fields - Bieber, Lohan. They're trash who were lucky enuf to get into certain areas. Their dirty laundry is always airred and their true colors come out in due time.

Flag Reply +30 rate up
9 replies
joe jtdancernh June 04 2014 at 2:52 PM

Yep, and it's too bad all those good looks were wasted on that "TRASH".

Flag Reply +6 rate up
2 replies
louqlou joe June 04 2014 at 7:38 PM

This guy is out of control and so is our ountry.

Flag +4 rate up
isthisallitis joe June 04 2014 at 9:23 PM

you are right Lou2school, he is very sexy and handsome but what he did makes him disgusting. He is going to be a superstar wife in prison.

Flag +1 rate up
gvargo740 June 04 2014 at 1:32 PM

I hope they execute him by firing squad or electric chair. Professional athletes make entirely to much money, they think they are above the law in most cases. Tired of hearing those forms are cruel & inhumane, what about the victims. I think all the members of the firing squad should have live amo & aim in different places, start the voltage out real low & slowly turn it up to make him squirm & shake violently, then pour the juice to him until he is toast

Flag Reply +20 rate up
8 replies
timeisinhishands June 04 2014 at 1:19 PM

There is nothing cool about a prison life or a life of crime.

A prison life is a life lived in a sproitual prison with your sould crying out by the minute for freedom.

I would much rather have a free life in Christ,living and breathing freely and then finally dancing right into Heaven when He calls me home.

A life of crime gets a one-way ticktet to the lake of Fire (Hell)

Flag Reply +13 rate up
6 replies
muffin June 04 2014 at 1:23 PM

So, AH had the gun in his hands and his actions caused the alleged deaths of 3. Apparently he did not want the football in his hands to direct his life. So now he has made his life as a has-been loser accused of killing 3.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
Jim June 04 2014 at 1:30 PM

Lock him away and FORGET him! Now he can fulfill his "Thug Life" with his kind of people. Hopefully somebody will want to trade a "Pack of Menthols" to "Hit Dat Piece" ! Enjoy Aaron!

Flag Reply +8 rate up
timeisinhishands June 04 2014 at 1:24 PM

Leviticus 19,28; You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

A true child of God will obey the commandment.
However, there are many teachers that will please your itching ears.
Its better to obey the commandment, than to listen to a teacher, since it is God's Word that will judge me

Flag Reply +7 rate up
15 replies
tylr88olivia June 04 2014 at 1:25 PM

Wow what waist of talent...you had the world in ur hands and threw it all away! for life in prison!!..Stupid situations you should have walked away from and just left a alone,,

Flag Reply +4 rate up
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