ATTLEBORO — Once cheered by thousands on the biggest stage in sports, former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez stood silently in handcuffs Wednesday, accused of planning and carrying out the cold-blooded execution of an acquaintance, Odin Lloyd.
Nine days after Lloyd’s bullet-ridden body was discovered in an industrial park near Hernandez’s North Attleborough home, prosecutors broke their silence on the sensational case and charged the NFL tight end with first-degree murder and weapons violations that could keep the 23-year-old locked up for life.
Prosecutor William McCauley dispassionately laid out the allegations one by one, re-creating Hernandez’s actions on the night of the slaying through footage gathered from several security cameras along his route, including from Hernandez’s own home. As football fans across the region drew near their televisions to make out the muffled audio coming from the courtroom, the prosecutor alleged that Hernandez, released by the Patriots hours after his arrest, had orchestrated Lloyd’s killing.
And it was Lloyd himself, McCauley said, who seemed to prophesy his own death in a series of chilling text messages to his sister, sent in the last moments of his life, while Hernandez and two other men allegedly drove Lloyd down a darkened dirt road, to a secluded sand pit deep in the industrial park, away from lights and people and homes.
“Did you see who I am with?” Lloyd wrote after 3 a.m., minutes later offering the answer: “NFL.” And then following up with a final text: “Just so you know.”
Lloyd, 27, of Dorchester, was shot multiple times by a .45-caliber weapon, and died where he was found, said McCauley. Investigators recovered shell casings from the crime scene, but have not found the gun.
Hernandez was arraigned in Attleboro District Court before Judge Daniel O’Shea. He is being held without bail. His lawyer, Michael K. Fee, called the evidence against him circumstantial and weak and sought unsuccessfully to set bail.
Onlookers gathered at the foot of the courthouse steps to glimpse the young superstar, blessed with immense money and fame, who has become an object of grim fascination.
“I just don’t understand how he could be involved in all this,” said Pete Ciaccio, 66, of Holden, in town for his granddaughter’s middle school graduation. “He had a promising career in front of him, and now he’s thrown it all away and is losing it all.”
The Patriots organization, which had not commented on the case since Hernandez became a target in the investigation more than week ago, acted swiftly after the player was arrested shortly before 9 a.m., releasing the star tight end about 90 minutes later. A team source said that top members of the organization, including owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, now both out of the country on vacation, decided last week to cut Hernandez if he was arrested.
“Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation,” the team said in a statement.
Hernandez’s name has been scrubbed from the Patriots’ website, where an unofficial team depth chart Wednesday morning listed Michael Hoomanawanui as the team’s number 2 tight end, behind starter Rob Gronkowski.
Prosecutors say that cellphone records show Hernandez texting with both Lloyd and two others described as his “compatriots” on the night of the slaying.
At 9:02 p.m. on June 16, Hernandez texted one of the friends, asking him to come up from Connecticut. Then, three minutes later, he texted Lloyd to tell him that he wanted to stop by and pick him up later. As Hernandez waited, he became impatient. At 9:35 p.m. he texted his friend again, “Get your ass up here,” and then later, at 10:23 p.m., “Hurry your ass up.”
At 1:12, on June 17, Hernandez and his friend departed from North Attleborough, McCauley said.
At 2:10 a.m., according to video footage, they stopped at a gas station, where Hernandez purchased a pack of Black & Milds, which McCauley described as a brand of minicigars often stripped of their tobacco and used as rolling papers to smoke marijuana, and a pack of Bubblicious chewing gum. At 2:32 a.m., the car pulled up in front of Lloyd’s home, and Hernandez texted him to let him know they were outside, McCauley said.
It was unclear where the group drove next, but prosecutors say that Lloyd sent the series of text messages to his sister while he was in the car.
At 3:23 a.m. surveillance cameras show a rented Nissan Altima, with Hernandez at the wheel, pulling into the entrance of the industrial park a half-mile from his home, McCauley said. Four minutes later, the same camera shows the vehicle quickly exiting the industrial park.
“In the interim, people who were working the overnight shift hear gunshots,” McCauley said. “One woman described five gunshots.”
Prosecutors allege that Lloyd was shot three times as he tried to exit the car. With bullet wounds in his arm, forearm, and back, Lloyd lay on the ground in pain. Then, prosecutors allege, someone stood over Lloyd and delivered two, execution-style kill shots to his chest.
Hernandez “orchestrated his execution,” McCauley said. “And that’s what it was, an execution.”
Video from Hernandez’s house shows him and two other men arriving at 3:30 a.m. Hernandez is seen in the video carrying one weapon, which police believe to be the murder weapon, while one of the men is seen carrying another, McCauley said. The men are seen walking around the house and down into the basement, at which point Hernandez’s video cameras shut off.
Prosecutors said that when police first showed up at the Hernandez home to question him, he did not respond to the doorbell.
An hour or two later, he came to the door and informed police that he knew they were outside because he had been watching them on his security camera system.
That admission, prosecutors said, is what led police to acquire a search warrant for his security cameras.
The following day, Hernandez returned the Nissan Altima to the rental car outlet and rented a Chrysler 300, which the two other men used to leave Massachusetts.
The rental company employee who cleaned out the Altima told police that she found a shell casing and a chewed piece of Bubblicious gum under the driver’s seat. After seizing a dumpster, police located the gum and the shell case, which they say matched others at the scene of the slaying.
Police have recovered two handguns, but neither is the murder weapon.
As prosecutors finished laying out how they believe the killing was carried out, Lloyd’s mother began sobbing and was led out of the courtroom.
District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter would not comment on the whereabouts or status of the other two men seen with Hernandez in the videotape.
However, a man named Carlos Ortiz, 27, was being held Wednesday in connection to the case on a $1.5 million bond at the Hartford Correctional Center in Hartford, said a dispatcher at the center. The dispatcher did not know the charges against Ortiz.
As for a motive for the brutal slaying, the prosecution said Hernandez and Lloyd spent Friday evening together at a Boston nightclub, where Lloyd allegedly upset Hernandez by talking to people the NFL player “had some troubles with,” said McCauley.
A cousin of Lloyd’s said he saw Lloyd and Hernandez on Friday night at Rumor, the Boston night club, but did not notice anything out of the ordinary or any tension between them.
“It was just us,” said the cousin, who would give only his nickname, Shatta.
Anthony Paul, a close family friend, said he was shocked by the possible motive.
“I’m in disbelief,” Paul said. “If [Hernandez] didn’t trust Odin, there were other ways to resolve this.”
Prosecutors said that Hernandez’s fiancee and Lloyd’s girlfriend are sisters.
In Hernandez’s suburban neighborhood on Wednesday, the mood was somber.
“This is all very sad for everybody involved,” said Meredith DiBattista, 38, who lives a few houses away. “I don’t feel a sense of relief that he’s been arrested, just sad.”
Days before Lloyd was killed, a Connecticut man filed suit against Hernandez in federal court in Florida, alleging that the football player shot him in the face following an argument at a Miami strip club in February.
Alexander Bradley, 30, said Hernandez pointed a gun at him and, either purposely or by negligence, fired. Bradley claims the shot left him disfigured and destroyed his right eye.
By Wednesday afternoon, Hernandez had not yet filed a response to the suit.
The now former Patriot was an up-and-coming NFL talent, selected by the club in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
The Patriots signed Hernandez to a seven-year, $40 million contract before the 2012 season, which included $16 million in guaranteed money.
Hernandez may ultimately count over $5 million against the Patriots’ salary cap in 2013 and $7.5 million in 2014 even with him off the team.
A Patriots source said the team is expected to try to recoup some of the money already paid to Hernandez and obtain salary cap relief, though the timing of the release may make it tough to do so.
But the financial concerns were not much of a factor in deciding to part ways with Hernandez.
“At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do,” the team said in a statement.
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