04/17/2015 06:02 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2015

Aaron Hernandez's Red Flag


Former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder. This is a sudden fall from grace for the star tight end who held a prized contract worth $40 million.

How did jurors reach this conclusion? They heard hours of testimony from dozens of people. But one witnesses' testimony stood out. And, surprisingly, it wasn't from a witness who was even with Aaron Hernandez the night of the murder.

Who delivered some of the most memorable testimony? It was the Patriots owner, Robert Kraft.

On the stand, Kraft described a conversation that he had with Hernandez two days after the murder of Odin Lloyd. At the time, Hernandez was working out at the Patriots facility. Kraft asked Hernandez if he was guilty. Not surprisingly, Hernandez told Kraft that he wasn't. It is what Hernandez said next that raised the red flag. Hernandez explained to Kraft that he "was innocent and that he hoped that the time of the murder incident came out because he said he was in a club."

Here's why. In our upcoming book, Friend and Foe, we identify a set of red flags that reveal when people are being deceptive. Our research has shown that it is possible to recognize deception (and how to build trust to prevent deception and how to recover from engaging in deception through apologies). That's why we were struck, as was the jury, by the giant red flag in Hernandez's statement.

Here, the red flag is the specificity of the timing of the murder. As one juror described it, "The one part for me was Aaron's alleged statement that he wished the time that Odin was murdered be made public because he was at a club at that time." As the juror explained, "we just went through a three-month trial, this is now a year-and-a-half or two years later, and we still don't know the exact time of Odin's murder, specifically. So I don't know how Aaron would have had that information two years ago. Even today, after medical examiners' review, we still don't have that information."

Hernandez waved a red flag by revealing too much detail. The juror reasoned that if Hernandez was innocent, he would have had no way of knowing when Lloyd was murdered.

Beyond the Hernandez murder trial, this example reveals something important about how we tell lies. When we lie, our research shows, we often include too much extraneous information. We overcompensate in trying to create the impression that we're innocent. And sometimes, the details we add are not only irrelevant--but damning evidence. In this case, Hernandez overdid it. He waved a red flag, and it cost him his freedom.