An associate of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez's was acquitted of murder Thursday in the 2013 slaying of Odin Lloyd, but he will remain behind bars because he was convicted of a lesser charge.
A Bristol Superior Court jury cleared Ernest Wallace, 44, of first-degree murder, which would have carried a life sentence, after a 10-week trial and about eight hours of deliberations over two days. He was convicted of being an accessory after the killing for helping to cover it up and sentenced to 4½ to 7 years in state prison.
Wallace turned himself in to authorities in June 2013 and has remained in custody since then while awaiting trial.
Hernandez, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder in the case last year and is serving a life term. His lawyers are appealing.
District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III's office said Thursday that prosecutors requested a seven-year term for Wallace, the maximum penalty for the accessory conviction.
"I very much respect the jury's verdict," Quinn said in a statement. "They apparently felt there wasn't sufficient evidence to prove Mr. Wallace and Mr. Hernandez were acting in concert to kill Odin Lloyd. I am happy the jury found the defendant guilty of accessory after the fact to murder, and was involved in the attempt to cover up the crime. I am pleased he will serve a state prison sentence."
Wallace's attorney, David E. Meier, said in a phone interview that his client was grateful to the jurors for paying careful attention to the evidence.
"The jury's verdict on the first-degree murder charge speaks for itself, as does the speed with which the jury returned that verdict," Meier said. "In the end, the truth won out. Mr. Wallace looks forward to rejoining his family in Florida as soon as possible and moving on with his life."
Wallace will get credit for the nearly three years he has already spent in custody, Meier said.
Prosecutors said Hernandez, Wallace, and a third man, Carlos Ortiz, 30, picked up Lloyd, 27, outside his Dorchester apartment in the predawn hours of June 17, 2013, and drove him to an industrial park in North Attleborough, where Hernandez fatally shot him.
Ortiz is also charged with murder and will be tried in October. Prosecutors charged Wallace and Ortiz with murder under the state's joint venture law, meaning they allegedly played meaningful roles in the killing.
But during opening arguments in Wallace's trial, Meier told jurors Hernandez was solely responsible for the crime and "it was Aaron Hernandez who shot and killed Odin Lloyd."
Wallace had expressed loyalty to Hernandez in a recorded jailhouse conversation with a visitor shortly after his arrest, urging the visitor to tell Hernandez that "we gotta work together," court records show.
Prosecutors said during Wallace's trial that he had been working for Hernandez and splitting his time between Bristol, Conn., and Hernandez's home in North Attleborough at the time of the murder. Hernandez paid Wallace $1,000 a week to run errands, prosecutors said.
A motive for the slaying was never clearly articulated during Hernandez's trial, but officials have told the Globe they believe he might have feared Lloyd knew too much about his alleged involvement in the fatal drive-by shootings in July 2012 of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and weapons charges in that case.
During Hernandez's trial in the Lloyd slaying, his lawyers conceded he was present for the murder but insisted he was merely a witness, rather than an active participant. They also tried to portray Wallace and Ortiz as drug abusers who were prone to erratic behavior.
A lawyer for Hernandez declined to comment on the Wallace verdict.
Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hernandez, and her lawyer, Douglas Sheff, said in a phone interview that she was "extremely upset" by the Wallace verdict.
"She feels that there's no question that this was a joint effort," Sheff said. "And she doesn't feel like justice was done . . . in this particular case."
Maria Cramer and Laura Crimaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report.