FALL RIVER — The cousin of Aaron Hernandez became the first person in the football star’s inner circle to face punishment, and a judge’s scorn, when she pleaded guilty Tuesday to contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury in connection with Hernandez’s murder case.
Bristol Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh upbraided Tanya Singleton, saying she had openly flouted the law and would have surely faced jail time if she were not afflicted with terminal breast cancer that prison doctors cannot effectively treat. Instead, Garsh sentenced Singleton, who is Hernandez’s cousin, to two years’ probation with one year of home confinement, which the judge said should be enough to persuade her to testify if summoned again.
“Miss Singleton’s willful conduct constitutes an assault on the rule of law and the effective administration of criminal justice,’’ Garsh said in Bristol Superior Court. “Miss Singleton’s health is the only reason she is not being placed in jail.’’
Prosecutors have argued that Hernandez paid Singleton for her silence. In court Tuesday, Singleton’s lawyer contended that her refusal to testify was borne out of a deep devotion to family.
“She chose family loyalty and family love over civic duty,” said the lawyer, E. Peter Parker.
But the mother of a Dorchester man Hernandez is accused of killing last summer said, in an emotional appearance, that Singleton had shown no compassion. Ursula Ward, the mother of Odin L. Lloyd, was denied a chance to give an impact statement in court Tuesday after Garsh ruled she was not a direct victim of Singleton’s contempt.
Ward instead spoke haltingly to reporters outside the courthouse, clutching a wrinkled piece of paper and struggling to find words, until her emotions forced her to walk away.
“What would you do or say to help the other family heal with the truth?” Ward said. “My baby was my only son, my first born. My baby’s gone without me saying goodbye.”
Prosecutors never argued that Singleton had a role in Lloyd’s death, but they said she could have provided insight about the actions of Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, two men accused of aiding Hernandez in the shooting. Specifically, they said, Wallace and Ortiz were at Singleton’s home in Bristol, Conn., before Hernandez allegedly called them to North Attleborough the night Lloyd was killed, and they returned after Lloyd’s body was found in an industrial park in June 2013.
Singleton knew about an effort to shuttle Ortiz out of state before he was arrested, prosecutors said, and she allegedly gave Wallace a new cellphone. Authorities also believe Hernandez’s cousin could help explain how Wallace and Ortiz knew the former New England Patriots tight end.
Hernandez, Wallace, and Ortiz have all pleaded not guilty in the Lloyd case. Hernandez is also facing charges in Suffolk County for allegedly killing two men in Boston after an altercation at a nightclub in 2012. Singleton faces another contempt charge for refusing to speak before a grand jury in that case.
For the next year, Singleton will only be allowed to leave her Connecticut home for meetings with doctors and attorneys or for court appearances in Massachusetts. Garsh also prohibited her from contacting Hernandez, Wallace, Ortiz, and a number of witnesses in the case. She will have to check in with a probation officer in person once a week.
Prosecutor William McCauley said Singleton deserved a 2½-year jail term, the maximum sentence for her crime, but said that she would not have received adequate medical treatment while incarcerated. Parker said a doctor determined her cancer is advancing and that she soon will die.
For this reason, Garsh declined to sentence Singleton to two years’ home confinement, as McCauley requested. There must be “some light for Miss Singleton at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
If Singleton refuses to testify again, Garsh said, she may face additional home confinement in the future. But if she obeys court orders, she may have time to spend her remaining months with loved ones more freely.
“In light of her shortened life expectancy, probation with two years of home confinement appears to provide insufficient incentive to reform,” Garsh said.
Singleton left the courthouse Tuesday clad in a black shirt with a wrap around her head. She walked alongside Parker and did not speak to reporters before hopping in the back seat of a red pickup truck.
Hernandez, 24, was a promising young player for the Patriots before he was arrested last summer. A number of friends and loved ones, including Wallace, Ortiz, and Singleton, have since found themselves caught in the swirl surrounding the athlete’s cases. Hernandez’s former girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins, is also accused of lying to the grand jury that investigated the Lloyd killing.
They are part of a circle of cohorts who prosecutors say stood alongside the charismatic Patriot even as he lived on the edge of criminality and drew the attention of authorities.
Hernandez is set to go to trial in the Lloyd case in January.