Two associates of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots player charged with killing a Dorchester man last year, are now also facing murder charges in the high-profile case.
Carlos Ortiz, 28, and Ernest Wallace, 42, were charged months ago as accessories after the fact in the slaying of Odin L. Lloyd, whose bullet-riddled body was found in an industrial yard near Hernandez’s North Attleborough home last June.
But Friday, Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter’s office announced that a grand jury has handed up murder indictments against Ortiz and Wallace, both of Bristol, Conn. No explanation was given for the indictments. Sutter’s spokesman declined further comment.
Lawyers for Wallace and Ortiz blasted the indictments when reached by phone, noting the timing of the murder counts, which came about 10 months after their initial arrests.
“Ernest Wallace did not shoot or kill anyone,” said his attorney, David Meier. “The nature and timing of this new charge against Mr. Wallace speaks for itself. One can only ask, is it based on the facts and the law, or something else? Ernest Wallace looks forward to confronting his accusers in a court of law.”
John Connors, a lawyer for Ortiz, said that his client was initially charged with a weapons violation, which was later dropped. He said he did not believe prosecutors have introduced any new evidence to justify the murder count.
“We started out having a gun [charge], then accessory after the fact [of murder], and now we’re up to first-degree murder,” he said. “This is absolutely crazy.”
He added, “Is it because they decided that they’re not going to use my guy as a witness, and now they’re going to squeeze him with this?”
Hernandez, 24, Ortiz, and Wallace allegedly picked up Lloyd at his home early on June 17 and drove him to the North Attleborough industrial yard, where Lloyd, 27, was shot multiple times in what prosecutors have called an execution.
The government has alleged that Hernandez orchestrated the killing, starting by summoning Ortiz and Wallace on the night of June 16.
But for months, only Hernandez was charged with murder, even though under a state joint venture statute it is possible for defendants to be convicted of murder if they were present at the time of a slaying and knew that a killing was about to take place.
Meier declined to comment when asked Friday if prosecutors had sought the cooperation of his client, Wallace, against Hernandez.
Connors, the lawyer for Otiz, said the government had never “given him any offers, as far as that goes. I’ve asked a number of times if we could sit down and talk about it. They’ve never given me any indication that this [murder indictment] was going to happen.”
Rosanna Cavallaro, a criminal law professor at Suffolk University and former assistant attorney general, said Friday that the new indictments do not necessarily mean plea deals are out of the question.
“Now that you’ve actually been indicted [for murder], that probably has a stronger coercive effect than the possibility [of a murder charge] looming, and not yet real,” said Cavallaro, who practiced in the law office of renowned defense attorney Alan M. Dershowitz.
But Gerard T. Leone Jr., a former Middlesex district attorney now working in private practice at Nixon Peabody, said either man’s credibility could be questioned if they testified against Hernandez only after being indicted for murder.
Charging Ortiz and Wallace with the killing could make it easier to persuade a jury to convict Hernandez for murder as a joint venturer, Leone said .
“It’s a much more difficult case to have Hernandez as the sole person charged with murder,” he said. “You have no joint venture theory against people who are charged with different charges and not the murder. . . . You can try to proceed if that’s your theory, but if you think about doubt and reasonable doubt, the optics alone are difficult.”
Cavallaro echoed those comments, saying that if only Hernandez was charged with murder, jurors “might be puzzled as to why he’s the one holding the bag, if all three of them were together.”
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons charges and is being held without bail. His lawyers could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
Arraignment dates for Ortiz and Wallace on the murder counts have not been set.
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