FALL RIVER — Lawyers for Aaron Hernandez denounced the murder case against the former New England Patriots player Monday, dismissing prosecutors’ evidence as “woefully lacking.”
“You can’t just throw a bunch of stuff against the wall,” defense attorney James Sultan said during a lengthy hearing in Bristol Superior Court. “That’s not probable cause.”
Sultan argued that the murder charges against Hernandez in the June 2013 shooting of Odin Lloyd should be dropped, asserting that the prosecution had not established a motive for the killing. Lloyd, a 27-year-old semiprofessional football player, was found shot to death in an industrial park near Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough.
But prosecutors called the evidence against Hernandez “powerful” and said a flurry of phone calls and text messages to associates revealed an orchestrated plan to end Lloyd’s life.
“The evidence would suggest presence, knowledge, and intent to see this thing through,” said prosecutor William McCauley. “He was at the scene, carrying out the plan that he had set into action.”
As the two sides jousted over the merits of the case, Hernandez’s lawyers also said they had sought the defendant’s personnel records from the New England Patriots, but had not received a response. A hearing was scheduled for July on the issue.
Hernandez showed little emotion during the hearing. Members of Lloyd’s family, who sat in the front row of the courtroom, dabbed away tears on several occasions.
The judge, E. Susan Garsh, did not make an immediate ruling.
Hernandez, 24, also faces charges in a 2012 double slaying in Boston. Authorities say Hernandez killed two men after one bumped into him at a Theatre District nightclub, causing him to spill his drink.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to the three slayings.
But prosecutors Monday described the former tight end as deeply suspicious and quick to anger and said he had shot a former associate, Alexander Bradley, after a dispute in which Hernandez felt “disrespected.”
Bradley has filed a civil suit in Florida against Hernandez in the alleged February 2013 shooting, which followed an argument at a Miami strip club.
“Odin Lloyd was not going to walk away, as Alexander Bradley had,” said McCauley, who called the shootings “remarkably similar.”
McCauley said Lloyd was shot twice after he had already fallen to the ground.
Two associates of Hernandez are also charged in Lloyd’s death, but Hernandez was the one who planned the shooting and later tried to thwart the investigation, McCauley said.
“He was the one who set it up,” he said.
Prosecutors said Hernandez and Lloyd went to a nightclub together the same weekend Lloyd was killed. Prosecutors have said Hernandez spotted Lloyd talking with people Hernandez “had troubles with.’’
On the night Lloyd was killed, authorities say, Hernandez and the associates picked up Lloyd in Boston and drove him to North Attleborough. Video footage and cellphone records tie Hernandez to the murder scene, prosecutors said. And surveillance images show Hernandez holding what appears to be a gun in his hand in his North Attleborough home shortly after Lloyd’s slaying, prosecutors say.
Garsh asked Sultan in court Monday why the jury could not draw “reasonable inferences” from evidence that pointed to Hernandez’s involvement. Sultan replied that while the evidence might cast suspicion on Hernandez, it did not amount to probable cause.
“There’s certainly a lot of what I would call smoke,” he said. “But that’s not probable cause.”
Hernandez’s lawyers also sought to suppress surveillance video from Hernandez’s home, saying it was outside the scope of the search warrant. They also argued that investigators improperly seized cellphones and iPads from his home.
Prosecutors countered that investigators were justified in seizing the footage, which showed images inside and outside the home.
Lawyers for Hernandez accused prosecutors of waging a “deliberate campaign” to tarnish Hernandez’s character “as a substitute for evidence.” They said prosecutors had failed to establish a motive for the killing.
“They provide no reason why Hernandez would want to kill the boyfriend of his fiancee’s sister,” Sultan said.
Hernandez was also arraigned Monday on charges of assaulting another inmate during a February jail fight and with threatening a guard. Hernandez pleaded not guilty to both charges, which were not detailed in court.
Hernandez’s defense team raised the issue of setting a trial date, saying Hernandez had already spent a year in custody.
“We want to get the case tried,” Sultan said. Both sides said they were prepared to begin the trial in October. Prosecutors said the trial could take as long as two months.