BOSTON – Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez waited nearly a year before a trial date was set in one murder he has been charged with – but Tuesday a judge handling a separate case wasted no time, scheduling a date with a jury in a double killing in which the now-notorious athlete has been indicted.
The decision by Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke during a short hearing came roughly six weeks after a grand jury returned multiple indictments alleging Hernandez as the killer of two men on Boston’s South Side on July 16, 2012.
Locke tentatively set May 28 as the start of Hernandez’s trail for the killings of Daniel de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, as they sat at a stoplight in Boston’s theater district.
Hernandez, 24, is also scheduled to go on trial Oct. 6 in the June 17, 2013, murder of Odin Lloyd in North Attleboro, which is located in Bristol County in the southern part of Massachusetts.
He has pleaded not guilty to both killings.
Hernandez’s attorneys sought to push back the trial in the Boston case, arguing that they are pouring their time and resources into preparations for the trial scheduled to start in less than four months. Attorney Charles Rankin asked the judge to push the second trial back until October 2015, but he refused, saying there was plenty of time to rearrange the schedule later if there’s a good reason to do so.
But he pushed the lawyers to plan for the date he set. And later, after Rankin said he anticipated filing multiple motions once the Bristol County trial is concluded, the judge issued a warning.
“Don’t consider this case suspended until October,” Locke said.
The deaths of de Abreu and Furtado went unsolved for nearly a year. Witnesses described a silver sport utility vehicle with Rhode Island plates as the shooter’s vehicle, but investigators were unable to identify a suspect.
Then Hernandez was arrested in Lloyd’s death. Prosecutors have said in open court that they believe Hernandez “orchestrated” the killing after a dispute with Lloyd at a nightclub. They have alleged that Hernandez summoned two associates from his hometown of Bristol, Conn., to his mansion in North Attleboro. At the same time, he is alleged to have contacted Lloyd and invited him out.
Prosecutors asserted that Hernandez drove the other two men – Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace Jr. – to the Dorchester neighborhood in Boston, where they picked up Lloyd. Hernandez is alleged to have driven the group back to North Attleboro and pulled into a secluded field in an industrial park, where Lloyd was gunned down.
Ortiz and Wallace have also been charged with murder, and prosecutors have yet to detail their theory of the crime. Under a provision in Massachusetts law known as “joint venture,” a person involved in a killing can be convicted of murder even if someone else actually fired the fatal shots.
The Lloyd case led investigators to Hernandez as a possible suspect in the Boston killings a year earlier, and ultimately prosecutors asserted that de Abreu inadvertently bumped Hernandez while dancing at a nightclub, spilling the former player’s drink, and failed to apologize.
According to evidence laid out at Hernandez’s arraignment, investigators believe he followed de Abreu, Furtado and three friends when they left the club, then pulled up next to their car at a red light and opened fire with a .38-caliber revolver.
A silver Toyota 4Runner with Rhode Island plates was discovered in the garage of a home in Bristol, Conn., owned by Hernandez’s uncle. The vehicle had been given to the player to use in exchange for promotional work he did for a Rhode Island car dealership.
The trial date may have been the big story at Tuesday’s hearing, but much of the time was taken up by Hernandez’s lawyers arguing for the imposition of a strict gag order mirroring one that a judge approved in the other case.
“We have here, at least in my experience, an unprecedented situation of a defendant charged in two different counties with first-degree murder and a defendant who has extremely high public visibility and attention,” said Jamie Sultan, one of the former player’s lawyers. “I am extremely dubious that Mr. Hernandez can receive a fair trial, but we all need to do whatever we can to safeguard that right.”
First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan, who is prosecuting the case, said the state opposed such a “strict, burdensome order,” calling it unnecessary, unreasonable, unwarranted and unprecedented.
“This prosecutors office has always had the most strict adherence for the rules of professional conduct,” Haggan said.
In the end, the judge took the question under advisement and said he would issue a ruling at a later date.