FALL RIVER — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft testified Tuesday that Aaron Hernandez, his former star tight end, insisted during a private conversation at the team facility that he did not kill Odin L. Lloyd.
“I understood there was an incident that had transpired and I wanted to know whether he was involved,” said Kraft, who testified in Hernandez’s murder trial in Bristol Superior Court. “He said he was not involved, that he was innocent.”
Kraft said they spoke in an office at Gillette Stadium on the morning of June 19, 2013, as a crush of reporters waited in the parking lots and helicopters circled the area.
Police had searched Hernandez’s North Attleborough home the night before, prompting a media firestorm. But the following morning, before many details of Lloyd’s death were publicized, Hernandez told Kraft he had an alibi.
He said “he hoped that the time of the incident became public, because he was at a club on that night,” Kraft testified. Defense lawyers objected when prosecutor William McCauley asked if Hernandez explained how he knew the time of the murder. Judge E. Susan Garsh sustained the objection.
Hernandez, 25, has pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons charges in the slaying of Lloyd, 27, of Dorchester, who was shot to death early on June 17, 2013, in an industrial park near the athlete’s residence.
The Patriots released Hernandez after his arrest nine days later, and Kraft initially appeared blindsided, telling reporters the following month that if the allegations were true, “our whole organization has been duped.”
On Tuesday, Kraft told defense lawyer Michael Fee that he never had any problems with Hernandez, saying the player was always respectful at Gillette. Hernandez embraced Kraft after their conversation, and “he would always hug and kiss me” when they saw one another, the owner testified.
“Aaron told you he had nothing to do with this, isn’t that right?” Fee asked.
“He said he was innocent,” said Kraft, who also testified that Hernandez said he and Lloyd socialized together, and that Lloyd dated the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee.
Kraft was followed on the witness stand by Mark Briggs, the team’s head of security, who testified that Hernandez also denied any involvement in the murder when they spoke.
Briggs said he asked Hernandez why he “lawyered up,” prompting another defense objection that Garsh sustained. She reminded jurors that all citizens have the right to counsel and do not have to speak to investigators.
Briggs said Hernandez maintained that he and Lloyd had gone to a club and then went their separate ways, when Hernandez left with friends and gave Lloyd the keys to a vehicle.
“He swore on his baby’s life that he was telling the truth,” Briggs said.
Hernandez and Lloyd were at a Boston club two nights before the murder and left together, driving with two women to a separate apartment that Hernandez leased in Franklin, according to prosecutors. Lloyd dropped Hernandez at his home the following morning, on June 15, and drove off in a vehicle that Hernandez had rented, prosecutors say.
Then on June 17 around 2:30 a.m., Hernandez and two accomplices allegedly picked Lloyd up in Dorchester and drove him to the industrial park where he was killed.
Fee asked Briggs if Hernandez told him Lloyd “was like family,” and Briggs said that he had. He also conceded that Hernandez did not specify the time when he last saw Lloyd.
“You’re not sure of when Aaron last saw Odin Lloyd, are you?” Fee asked.
“No,” Briggs said, later adding that he asked Hernandez to leave Gillette, and Hernandez complied and shook his hand.
“You asked him to leave the stadium because his presence there was bad for business, isn’t that right?” Fee asked.
“That’s correct,” Briggs said.
Prosecutors could rest their case Thursday and are expected to call Alexander Bradley, a former friend of Hernandez, on Wednesday. Bradley is jailed in Connecticut on unrelated gun charges and alleges in a pending lawsuit that Hernandez shot him in Florida in February 2013.
Garsh has barred Bradley from mentioning that incident on the stand, but he can testify that Hernandez had access to a firearm.
Defense lawyers filed a motion Monday asking Garsh to bar Bradley from testifying altogether, calling him “a wild card who is not subject to anyone’s control and may well ignore the court’s instructions” and possibly force a mistrial.
Garsh may hear arguments on the matter out of the jury’s presence Wednesday morning.