BOSTON – A seemingly innocuous slight – a bump on a nightclub dance floor, a spilled drink, a smile instead of an apology – led then-New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez to open fire at a lonely intersection, killing two men and wounding a third, a prosecutor alleged Wednesday in court.
Hernandez, in court to be arraigned on murder, assault and weapons charges in the July 16, 2012, double murder on Boston’s south side, calmly pleaded “not guilty” to each charge after it was read to him.
Hernandez, 24, was kept in handcuffs throughout the 20-minute hearing despite a request from one of his attorneys that they be removed. The hearing included strong language from a defense attorney – who accused prosecutors of poisoning the jury pool – and a rebuke from the presiding clerk magistrate.
In outlining the alleged sequence of events, First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan of Suffolk County detailed a series of deliberate acts that he asserted began when Hernandez stashed a revolver under the hood of a vehicle and ended in gunfire. Haggan’s presentation, which shed new light on a case that vexed investigators for nearly a year, sparked strong words from a defense attorney that, in turn, led to a fiery series of pronouncements from Clerk Magistrate Gary D. Wilson.
Behind it all, Haggan asserted, was a football star for the local team who seethed that he wasn’t given respect he felt he was due when he was in public.
“Evidence suggests that in the months leading up to July of 2012, the defendant had become increasingly sensitive and angered by what he believed to be people who were testing, trying or otherwise disrespecting him when he frequented nightclubs in the area,” Haggan said during the hearing, which lasted less than 20 minutes.
Hernandez, who has been held without bail since June 26, 2013, in another murder in which he has been indicted, was denied bail in this new case.
Aaron Hernandez was in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston on Wednesday for his arraignment on charges he faces in the 2012 shootings of two men.
Wednesday’s court appearance in Suffolk County Superior Court before Wilson was the first for Hernandez since he was formally charged with gunning down Daniel de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, and wounding a third man.
Hernandez was indicted earlier this month by a Suffolk County grand jury on two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm in the shootings.
The deaths of de Abreu and Furtado had been a frustrating pursuit for Boston police. They’d been shot and killed as they and their friends sat at a red light, and investigators knew only that they were looking for a silver sport-utility vehicle with Rhode Island license plates.
Hernandez’s arrest in the June 17, 2013, murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd led to suspicion that he was involved in the killings of de Abreu and Furtado, and a Boston grand jury considered the evidence for roughly 10 months before indicting the now-former Patriot.
Haggan told Wilson that the evidence in the case included “video surveillance, cell site location, forensic testing, eyewitness identification, witness statements and testimony.”
At least some of that testimony apparently was provided by a man who was with Hernandez that night – identified in court papers as Alexander Bradley.
Haggan said the fatal sequence of events began when Hernandez and the other man left Manchester, Conn., about 10 p.m. on July 15, 2012, in a 2006 Toyota 4Runner.
“Just prior to leaving Connecticut,” Haggan said in court, “the defendant was observed to place a revolver into the engine block of the SUV where it was hidden but easily accessible.”
About the same time Hernandez and Bradley arrived at Cure Lounge in Boston’s theater district, de Abreu, Furtado and three friends also got to the club. As the five of them were showing their identification and paying a cover charge on what was their first visit to the club, a Cure Lounge employee was escorting Hernandez and Bradley into the nightspot, Haggan said.
Haggan said there was “no evidence the defendant and the victims knew one another or had ever crossed paths prior to that night.”
And neither de Abreu nor Furtado – nor their friends – recognized Hernandez.
Hernandez and Bradley ended up downstairs, on the edge of the dance floor, drinks in their hands, Haggan said.
“Shortly thereafter Daniel de Abreu, while dancing nearby, accidentally bumped into the defendant, causing the defendant’s drink to partially spill,” Haggan said. “The defendant became angered and increasingly agitated, particularly after Mr. de Abreu smiled and did not apologize.”
After downing two mixed drinks, Hernandez and Bradley left and went to a nearby club – then, after leaving, encountered de Abreu, Furtado and their friends.
Haggan alleged that Hernandez, driving down the street in front of the club, said, “There they go” after seeing de Abreu and Furtado and their friends walking to a parking garage. The prosecutor asserted that at some point Hernandez pulled around a corner, opened the hood and grabbed the gun he’d stowed there.
Hernandez then allegedly followed de Abreu as he drove Furtado and their friends away from the club – stopping briefly at a red light, then speeding off to catch up with them, then pulling up next to them at a red light on an overpass on Interstate 90.
“At the time,” Haggan said, “the victims were completely unaware there were any problems with the defendant or anyone else and were similarly unaware they were being followed.”
At that point, Hernandez yelled out the window, “Yo, what’s up now," then a racial slur, Haggan said, then Hernandez began firing from the revolver. Witnesses, he said, heard a clicking noise – indicating that Hernandez emptied the gun.
As he sped away on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Hernandez allegedly said, “I think I got one in the head and one in the chest.”
After arriving in Hartford, Conn., a few hours later, Hernandez spent time surfing the Internet and watching the news, looking for news of the killings, Haggan said. And he summoned his cousin, Tanya Singleton, to bring him a different car.
Singleton, indicted for contempt amid accusations that she refused to testify before the grand jury, allegedly drove the 4Runner to Bristol, Conn., and parked it in the garage of a home owned by Hernandez’s uncle. It was discovered there after Lloyd’s murder, covered in dust and cobwebs.
Haggan said it showed evidence that it had been “thoroughly” cleaned.
Haggan’s presentation sparked strong words from Charles Rankin, one of Hernandez’s three defense attorneys.
“I object to the court giving the commonwealth an opportunity to make a speech describing what they claim is the evidence elicited by the grand jury to play to the assembled media,” Rankin said.
Hernandez listened to the prosecution’s summary of facts Wednesday, a day on which he pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.
He accused prosecutors of “poisoning the jury pool.”
“This is not supposed to be a spectacle; it’s not supposed to be a sporting contest,” Rankin said. “The defendant has been subjected to an avalanche of publicity, none of which we’re responsible for.”
But Wilson, the clerk magistrate presiding over the hearing, bristled at those charges.
“I’m not going to address all the issues that you raised, but I will note this arraignment started approximately at one minute past 2, and now if my eyes are correct its about 16 minutes past 2, so this has been a very quick proceeding.”
Wilson wasn’t done.
“I will also state for the record that I have conducted 1,900 arraignments – over 1,900 – in capital cases in Suffolk County since 1983,” he said. “In each occasion the prosecutor has been afforded an opportunity to speak to address the court to address the facts of the case.”
In addition to the murders of de Abreu, Furtado and Lloyd, Hernandez has also been accused of shooting Bradley in the face in Florida and dumping him along a deserted road. Bradley, who lost an eye in the incident, refused to cooperate with police, and no criminal charges were filed. However, he filed a federal civil lawsuit against Hernandez, accusing him of the killing.
Hernandez is scheduled to appear in court on June 17 in Lloyd’s killing and on July 24 in the de Abreu and Furtado murders.
Outside the courtroom, District Attorney Daniel Conley portrayed de Abreu and Furtado as young men with promising lives who had never been in trouble, had no ties to gangs, and had no idea that they’d upset a star football player.
“They had no idea this was coming,” Conley said. “They didn’t deserve this.