A last-minute discussion with prosecutors led Aaron Hernandez’s attorneys to decide Friday not to ask that the former New England Patriots tight end be released on bail while a murder case against him is pending.
The decision not to ask a judge to set bail was the biggest news at the arraignment for Hernandez, who uttered “not guilty” to each of the six charges filed against him — the first time he has spoken in any of the court appearances since his June 26 arrest in the murder of Odin Lloyd, 27.
Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter would not disclose the nature of the discussions that occurred a “couple hours” before the hearing and prompted Hernandez’s lawyers to decide not to push for his release — at least for now.
“It was uncertain enough that we were ready to argue (against) bail,” Sutter said after the hearing.
Hernandez’s lawyers made it clear they may pursue bail for the former Pro Bowl player at a future hearing. He is scheduled to return to court Oct. 9.
Hernandez has been indicted on charges of murder and illegally carrying a weapon in Lloyd’s June 17 death, and with four other firearms-related charges alleging that he had a rifle, a high-capacity magazine and two kinds of ammunition at his home when it was searched five days after the killing.
According to court documents, prosecutors believe Hernandez set the killing in motion when he summoned two friends — Ernest Wallace Jr., 41, and Carlos Ortiz, 27 — to his home in North Attleboro, Mass., late the night of June 16 at the same time he was sending text messages to Lloyd saying he wanted to get together.
Prosecutors have alleged that the three men drove to Boston, picked up Lloyd about 2:30 a.m. June 17, made the approximately 40-mile drive back to North Attleboro, and then pulled into a secluded area in an industrial park. There, prosecutors allege that Hernandez shot and killed Lloyd.
According to court documents, prosecutors believe the murder was the culmination of a dispute rooted in an incident a few days earlier at a nightclub in which Lloyd spoke with people with whom Hernandez had problems.
The arraignment was high on drama but short on substance — besides the bail question, the only other substantive business discussed by attorneys was a motion filed by the defense demanding that prosecutors make efforts to make sure any evidence gathered in other states is preserved. Hernandez is the subject of a civil lawsuit alleging he was involved in a shooting in Florida, and a vehicle confiscated from his uncle’s house in Connecticut has been examined for evidence in a separate, unsolved 2012 double murder in Boston.
Besides Hernandez’s first words, the hearing featured members of the two families — the victim and the accused — taking up positions on opposite sides of the courtroom.
On one side, sitting with members of Lloyd’s family, was Lloyd’s girlfriend, Shaneah Jenkins. On the other side, sitting with members of Hernandez’s family, was his fiance, Shayanna Jenkins. The two women are sisters.
Anticipating a highly charged hearing, Judge Frances A. McIntyre admonished members of both families that emotional outbursts would not be tolerated. But it was over in 12 minutes, and despite some tears the hearing was sedate.
Hernandez stood next to one of his attorneys, his hands cuffed in front of him, wearing a dark sport jacket and a white dress shirt.
Outside the courthouse afterward, one of Hernandez’s attorneys said he “would encourage people to keep an open mind.”
“In a sense, this is like the opening kickoff, and we have a long way to go before the trial,” the lawyer, Charles Rankin, said. “At the end of the day, we are confident Aaron is going to be exonerated.”
He also said that despite extensive details about the state’s case laid out in court documents “not one shred of evidence has been presented yet.”
A short time later, Sutter, the district attorney, pointed out that hundreds of pages of court documents have been made public. Those documents detail cell phone records, which show numerous contacts between the four men in the hours leading up to the killing, and images from security cameras, some of them in Hernandez’s home. Among those images are pictures of Hernandez with what prosecutors allege is a handgun in his home shortly after Lloyd’s killing.
Among the evidence detailed in court records is a series of text messages Lloyd sent to his sister in the minutes before his death — “u saw who I’m with” was the first. After she answered him, Lloyd texted “Nfl” — apparently a reference to the National Football League — and, moments before police believe he was killed, a final message: “just so u know.”
“I think that evidence speaks for itself,” Sutter said.
The two men alleged to have been with Hernandez the night of the killing also face charges.
Wallace was indicted on a charge of accessory after the fact in Lloyd’s death, but Ortiz has been charged only with possessing a weapon, an allegation based on his admission to detectives that he handled a gun the night of the killing. According to court documents, Ortiz has provided extensive information to investigators, claiming that he fell asleep on the drive from Boston to North Attleboro, that he awakened when the other three men got out of the car to urinate, that he heard gunshots and that Hernandez and Wallace got back in the car and they fled to the former Pro Bowl player’s nearby home.
In addition to Lloyd’s death, Hernandez is the subject of an ongoing grand jury investigation into a drive-by shooting in July 2012 in which two men were killed and another was wounded. He has also been sued in federal court in Florida by a Connecticut man who accused Hernandez of shooting him in the face in February after a dispute at a strip club.