BOSTON – Aaron Hernandez stalked and gunned down two men in a 2012 drive-by shooting, Boston’s top prosecutor alleged Thursday after a grand jury indicted the former New England Patriot on murder, assault and weapons charges.
Those new charges are in addition to two other 2013 shootings that Hernandez has been accused of – including the murder of a semi-pro football player in North Attleboro, Mass.
Thursday’s indictment, issued by a Suffolk County grand jury, accused Hernandez of two counts of murder, three counts of armed assault and unlawful possession of a .38-caliber revolver used in the 2012 attack at a South Boston intersection that also left a third man wounded.
In addition, Hernandez’s cousin was indicted on a contempt of court charge after she allegedly refused to testify before a grand jury even after being granted immunity.
“For us, this case was never about Aaron Hernandez,” said Daniel Conley, the district attorney in Suffolk County, where Boston is located. “This case was about two victims who were stalked, ambushed and senselessly murdered on the streets of the city they called home.”
Attorneys for Hernandez issued this statement: “It is one thing to make allegations at a press conference, and another to prove them in a courtroom. Unlike the District Attorney, we are not going to try this case in the media. Under our system of justice, Aaron Hernandez is innocent of these charges, and he looks forward to his day in court.”
Hernandez, 24, is being held without bail in the June 17, 2013, murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player who had been dating the sister of the star player’s fiancée. He was also accused in a federal civil lawsuit of shooting a man named Alexander Bradley in Florida on Feb. 13, 2013.
Thursday’s new indictment points to Hernandez as the triggerman in the July 16, 2012, killings of two men and wounding of a third that occurred just after the trio and two friends left Cure Lounge, a nightclub in the theater district of Boston’s south end.
Shortly after leaving the club, as the five friends sat in a car at a stoplight, someone in another vehicle opened fire. The driver, 29-year-old Daniel de Abreu, and front-seat passenger, 28-year-old Safiro Furtado, died at the scene. A 25-year-old man sitting in the middle of the back seat suffered gunshot wounds to both arms, and two other passengers in the back seat survived unharmed but jumped from the car and ran before police arrived.
Conley made it clear that he was accusing Hernandez not merely of being in the car, not merely of being involved, but of firing the deadly shots. He described the victims and their friends leaving the club and Hernandez following them in a sport-utility vehicle.
“When the victims’ car stopped at a red light … the SUV pulled up beside the victims’ car on the right,” Conley said. “Aaron Hernandez fired a .38-caliber revolver multiple times from the driver’s side of his vehicle into the passenger’s side of the victims’ vehicle.”
No arraignment date has been set for Hernandez, although Conley said it could occur as early as next week.
Conley, while being circumspect in detailing evidence, said that Hernandez had no relationship to the men who were shot.
“Our investigation has not uncovered any evidence that these two groups were known to each other, but their chance encounter inside the club triggered a series of events that ended in the murders,” Conley said.
Hernandez’s cousin, Tanya Singleton, was indicted on a contempt charge after she refused to testify before the grand jury, Conley said, despite being offered immunity.
The new indictments came on a day when Hernandez’s lawyers filed a motion seeking the dismissal of the murder charge against him in Lloyd’s killing. The motion asserted that there was no forensic evidence to support his prosecution. Also, Ernest Wallace Jr., one of two men allegedly with Hernandez when Lloyd was killed, pleaded not guilty to a murder charge filed against him in that case. In addition to Hernandez and Wallace, the other man alleged to have been in the car when Lloyd was killed, Carlos Ortiz, has also been charged with murder. Prosecutors have not disclosed their theory of the killing — including their belief about who fired the bullets that killed Lloyd.
For 11 months, the investigation of the 2012 killings languished – all investigators knew for certain was that the victims were stopped at a traffic light when someone in a silver sport-utility vehicle with Rhode Island plates pulled up next to them and opened fire. One witness described the driver as a black man or dark-skinned Hispanic with short hair, according to court documents unsealed by a judge in Connecticut.
But despite an extensive search, detectives were unable to locate an SUV with Rhode Island plates that they thought was used in the crime. And Abreu and Furtado, immigrants from Cape Verde, were not involved in gangs, leaving investigators grasping to understand why someone would want to shoot them.
Conley stressed that point again Thursday.
“Neither of them were involved in gangs, guns, or violent crime, and that characterization was unfair to their memory and their families,” Conley said.
In the early stages of that investigation, a detective studying surveillance camera footage from Cure Lounge noticed that Hernandez was there at the same time as Abreu, Furtado and their three friends.
But that detective had no reason to imagine that Hernandez – a star for the local football team just five months removed from an eight-catch, one-touchdown performance in Super Bowl XLVI – would be involved in a drive-by shooting.
Then came Lloyd’s killing, and detectives went back to that surveillance footage.
They located footage of Hernandez parking in a garage down the street from the club early that morning. He was driving a silver 2006 Toyota 4Runner with Rhode Island license plates. The footage showed Hernandez and a man later identified as Alexander Bradley outside Cure Lounge a short time later. The two of them entered the club just after Abreu, Furtado and their three friends, according to court documents.
About an hour later, Hernandez and Bradley left the club, and nearly another hour passed before Abreu, Furtado and their friends emerged from Cure Lounge. As they walked down a sidewalk toward the parking garage where they’d left their car, “what appears to be a silver Toyota 4Runner (consistent with the vehicle Hernandez was operating) can be seen traveling in the left hand lane closest to the sidewalk,” according to court documents.
The vehicle slowly passed the five men, went down the street and turned. A camera captured it several minutes later coming down the street a second time as three of the men stood on the sidewalk, apparently waiting for Abreu and Furtado to get their car. Again it was being driven very slowly – according to the warrant, “other traffic is passing the Toyota 4Runner due to its decreased speed.”
The shootings of Abreu, Furtado and the other man were reported less than 15 minutes later several blocks from the club.
Initial interest in Hernandez was bolstered when a man called police in the wake of Lloyd’s killing and asserted that it was connected to the 2012 shootings. He told a police dispatcher the same person was involved in both killings – suggesting that the motive for Lloyd’s killing may have been rooted in the Boston shootings. And he provided enough details about the Boston case to lead detectives to believe that he had intimate knowledge of the shootings.
“Someone accidentally spilled the beans in front of me,” the man said, according to court documents.
Then, two days after Hernandez’s arrest in Lloyd’s killing, a search of a home owned by his uncle in Bristol, Conn., turned up a silver Toyota 4Runner with Rhode Island plates that had been parked in the garage. Police towed that vehicle from the scene.
The 4Runner was registered to a Toyota dealer in Providence, R.I., and was loaned to Hernandez in exchange for some promotional work he did, according to the warrant.
Officials at the dealership told investigators they had not seen the 4Runner since May 2012 – a month before the Boston shootings.
“There is also probable cause to believe that Aaron Hernandez was operating the suspect vehicle used in the shooting homicides of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado, and may have been the shooter,” a detective wrote in a warrant that allowed investigators to search the vehicle.
The investigator who filed the affidavit wrote that he hoped to find fingerprints, gunshot residue and shell casings, according to the affidavit, “since there is reason to believe that the vehicle has remained untouched and stored in an enclosed garage for a year.”
Bradley – allegedly with Hernandez the night of the Boston killings – has been described by a prosecutor in the Lloyd case as Hernandez’s former “right-hand man.” However, Bradley has since sued Hernandez in federal court in Florida, alleging that the player shot him in the face after a dispute at a Florida nightclub. Bradley was left for dead along a deserted road but survived.
He refused to cooperate with police and no criminal charges were filed.
Other evidence in the 2012 case has also come to light.
On June 21 of last year, state troopers responded to a three-vehicle crash in western Massachusetts. When they search one of the wrecked vehicles, they found a .38-caliber handgun in the trunk – and, according to multiple media reports, it has been linked to the killings of Abreu and Furtado.
According to a police report, the woman who was driving that car told officers that “a few days ago she gave a ride to a friend named ‘Chicago’ and his buddies. She stated that they are football players and they put all their belongings in the trunk. She stated that she dropped them off at work and they left their belongings in the vehicle …”
The man identified as “Chicago,” John A. Alcorn, has ties to a cousin of Hernandez’s, Singleton, who has been charged with contempt of court for failing to testify before a grand jury and with conspiracy to commit accessory after the fact in Lloyd’s killing. Alcorn is a relative of Singleton’s now-deceased husband, who was killed in a high-speed car crash last June 30.
Conley said Thursday it’s possible other charges could be filed – a man identified as having been with Hernandez the morning of the killings has not been indicted in the case.