Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a late-night shooting, sealing the downfall of an athlete who once had a $40 million contract and a standout career ahead of him.

Hernandez, 25, who had been considered one of the top tight ends in the NFL, shook his head, pursed his lips and sat down after the jury forewoman pronounced him guilty in the slaying of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old landscaper and amateur weekend football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée.

Hernandez's mother, Terri, and his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, cried and gasped when they heard the verdict. Hernandez, his eyes red, mouthed to them: "Be strong. Be strong."

Lloyd's mother also cried.

Jurors deliberated for 36 hours over seven days before rendering their decision, which also included convictions on weapons charges.

"The jury found that he was just a man who committed a brutal murder," District Attorney Thomas Quinn said after the verdict. "The fact that he was a professional athlete meant nothing in the end."

Lloyd was shot six times early on June 17, 2013, in a deserted industrial park near Hernandez's home in North Attleborough. The motive has never been explained.

Police almost immediately zeroed in on the former Pro Bowl athlete because they found in Lloyd's pocket the key to a car the NFL player had rented.

Within hours of Hernandez's arrest, the Patriots cut him. The team declined to comment on the verdict.

Prosecutors presented a wealth of evidence that Hernandez was with Lloyd at the time he was killed, including home security video from Hernandez's mansion, witness testimony and cellphone records that tracked Lloyd's movements.

Hernandez's lawyer, James Sultan, acknowledged for the first time during closing arguments that Hernandez was there when Lloyd was killed.

But the attorney pinned the shooting on two of Hernandez's friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, saying his client was a "23-year-old kid" who witnessed a shocking crime and did not know what to do. Wallace and Ortiz will stand trial later.

Prosecutors have suggested Lloyd may have been killed because he knew too much about Hernandez's alleged involvement in a 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston that killed two. But they were not allowed to tell the jury that because the judge said it was speculation.

In the 2012 case, Hernandez is accused of gunning down a pair of men over a spilled drink at a nightclub.