Ex-ball player denied bail in US murder case
Former professional football player Aaron Hernandez, charged with murder for what prosecutors say was the execution-style killing of a friend near his house, was denied bail on Thursday.
Hernandez’s lawyer argued that his celebrity status means even if he wanted to flee he couldn’t and that the case against him is circumstantial.
“He wants to clear his name,” lawyer James Sultan told the judge.
But Assistant District Attorney Bill McCauley called the evidence in the June 17 slaying of Odin Lloyd overwhelming and said police had made discoveries Wednesday when they searched a condo Hernandez leased and a Hummer registered to him that was parked there.
A jogger found Lloyd’s body in a remote area of an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough 10 days ago. Lloyd was a semi-pro football player from Boston who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiance.
Prosecutors said Hernandez orchestrated the killing because Lloyd talked to the wrong people at a nightclub. Hernandez, who signed a five-year contract with the New England Patriots worth US$40 million, could face life in prison if convicted.
In laying out more of the government’s case Thursday, McCauley said prosecutors believe that the murder weapon was a .45-calibre Glock and that a gun Hernandez is seen holding on his home surveillance video, a weapon they haven’t found, appears to be a Glock.
The prosecutor said that inside the Hummer investigators recovered an ammunition clip for .45-calibre bullets and that ammunition was found inside the condo. McCauley said a photograph had emerged online of Hernandez holding a Glock.
District Attorney Sam Sutter would not be specific when asked when the photo was taken, saying only that the information would emerge with the continuing investigation.
Hernandez’s lawyer said as far as he knew there was no eyewitness testimony and the prosecution had not given evidence that shows who shot Lloyd or whether there was a plan to kill him. He said Hernandez has no criminal record, owns a home and lives with his 8-month-old daughter and fiancee.
“Mr. Hernandez is not just a football player but is one of the best football players in the United States of America,” Sultan said, adding, “He’s a young man who is extremely accomplished and hardworking in his chosen profession.”
Hernandez appeared in court with his hands cuffed in front of him and occasionally looked at his fiancee during Thursday’s bail hearing. She cried when Judge Renee Dupuis denied the request, but Hernandez showed little emotion.
The judge said that it is rare for someone charged with first-degree murder to get bail and that Hernandez had the means to flee if he chose to do so. She acknowledged the prosecution’s case was circumstantial but said it was “very, very strong” and called the scenario the prosecution described “cold-blooded.”
The Patriots cut Hernandez shortly after police arrested him on Wednesday.
That day, authorities in Connecticut also made an arrest in connection with Lloyd’s slaying. New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski said Thursday that investigators arrested 27-year-old Carlos Ortiz in Hernandez’ hometown, Bristol, Connecticut, as part of the murder probe.
Authorities charged Ortiz as a fugitive from justice, and he agreed to be transferred to Massachusetts. Prison records show he was being held on $1.5 million bail at a Hartford, Connecticut, jail, but his public defender, Alfonzo Sirica, declined to comment about the case.
On Thursday, residents of a condo complex in Franklin described seeing a two-day police search of the unit that neighbours believed Hernandez was renting. Carol Bailey, who lives next door to the two-bedroom unit, said police removed items from the third-floor condo and asked her questions about its occupants. She said a new tenant of the unit told her in May that he was moving in with his cousin and she realised later that the second man was the Patriots player.
“I thought, ‘This is Aaron Hernandez. He’s renting a place here so he can have some peace and quiet,”‘ Bailey said Thursday.
She said she didn’t see the two men often but Hernandez always had a hoodie pulled up when she saw him.
“I think all of us who recognised who it was didn’t want to invade his privacy,” she said.
Bailey said police towed a black Hummer with expired, temporary Ohio tags from the condo on Wednesday.
Complex resident Kathleen McKeown, whose front door is a few feet from the unit police searched, said there were things that struck her as strange even before that. She said someone had plugged an air freshener into a hallway wall outlet outside the unit and put a jar with fragrance sticks on the floor by the door, as if to mask an odor.
“I thought, ‘Why would two guys be worried about the smell out in the hall?”‘ she said.
Authorities have said trouble that led to Lloyd’s killing happened on June 14, when Lloyd went with Hernandez to a Boston nightclub.
“Apparently, Mr. Lloyd saw some people that he knew and began conversing with them,” McCauley said Thursday. “The defendant took exception to that.”