Stating that it “is important that our fan base hear directly from our organization,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Monday broke the team’s silence on former tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested last month on murder and gun charges.
“No one in our organization was aware of any of these kind of connections. If it’s true, I’m just shocked,” Kraft told reporters on Monday from his office at Gillette Stadium. “Our whole organization has been duped.”
Kraft, the team’s owner since 1994, defended the Patriots’ use of a fourth-round draft pick on Hernandez in the 2010 draft, claiming they viewed Hernandez as nothing more than an immature kid whose transgressions mostly involved drug use, but certainly not murder.
Hernandez, 23, has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in the June 17 fatal shooting of Odin Lloyd of Boston. Lloyd’s body was found in an industrial park near Hernandez’s North Attleboro home.
The Patriots released Hernandez immediately following his arrest.
According to reports, Kraft went as far as to present a letter sent to the organization by Hernandez and his agent in the week prior to the 2010 draft. In the letter, addressed to Patriots personnel director Nick Caserio, Hernandez admitted to recreational marijuana use while at the University of Florida and offered to submit to regular drug-testing during his rookie season should the Patriots take him in the draft. Hernandez offered to reimburse the team any money he would earn if he were to receive a suspension as the result of a positive test.
“My point is simple – if I fail a drug test, I do not deserve that portion of the money,” Hernandez wrote. “I realize this offer is somewhat unorthodox, but it is also the only way I could think of to let you know how serious I am about reaching my potential in the NFL.”
Kraft said the Patriots were not aware of any other personal issues Hernandez had been dealing with and felt comfortable drafting the tight end in the fourth round after reading the letter.
“Here’s a guy writing a letter, taking responsibility,” Kraft told reporters. “The only thing I ever heard on Aaron Hernandez was he was very young, immature and potentially had problems presented in this letter. Never saw signs of anything else.”
To that end, the Patriots rewarded Hernandez with a five-year, $40 million contract in 2012 that included $16 million guaranteed. After signing the deal, Hernandez presented Kraft with a $50,000 check made out to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund, which was run by Kraft’s wife before her death in 2011.
“He wanted to be a role model for the Hispanic community. He said that when he signed his contract,” Kraft told reporters. “He said, ‘You gave me a second chance,’ and I believed him.”
Kraft admitted that, in retrospect, the decision to give Hernandez a hefty contract was not the right one. But the decision to release Hernandez upon learning of the charges levied against him, was the right call and one the organization had planned for.
“If any member of the New England Patriots organization is close enough to a murder investigation to actually get arrested – whether it be for obstruction of justice or the crime itself – it is too close to an unthinkable act for that person to be part of this organization going forward,” he said.
JUDGE TO UNSEAL SEARCH WARRANTS
A Massachusetts judge says he will release impounded search warrant materials in the murder case involving Hernandez.
Attleboro District Court Judge Daniel O’Shea on Monday said the material will be released at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Motions to unseal the material were filed by The Patriot Ledger and Taunton Gazette newspapers and their parent Gatehouse Media, supported by The Associated Press, and by The Boston Globe.
Prosecutors and Hernandez’s defense attorney had opposed releasing the material. District Attorney Samuel Sutter said Monday he would not appeal the judge’s decision.
Also on Monday, a man facing an accessory to murder charge in the case was held without bail.
Ernest Wallace, of Miramar, Fla., pleaded not guilty in Attleboro, Mass., court. He returns to court July 22.
Prosecutors say Wallace and another man, Carlos Ortiz, were with Hernandez when they drove with Lloyd to the industrial park. They have not said who shot him. Prosecutors say Hernandez orchestrated the killing because he was upset at Lloyd for talking to certain people at a nightclub a few days earlier.