BOSTON — Aaron Hernandez ambushed and gunned down two men after a chance encounter inside a Boston nightclub nearly two years ago, prosecutors said Thursday in an indictment that places the gun in Hernandez’s hands weeks before he signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the New England Patriots and went on to catch 51 passes and score five touchdowns during the 2012 NFL season.
Hernandez, 24, was already jailed in connection with a man’s 2013 shooting death and was indicted anew on two counts of first-degree murder and other charges in connection with the July 2012 killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. A third man was wounded in that attack.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in the killing last year of Odin Lloyd, 27, a semi-pro football player whose body was found in an industrial area near Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough. Released by the Patriots last summer after being arrested in Lloyd’s death, Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in that case and his attorneys said in a statement that he looked forward to proving his innocence of the new charges.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley would not say whether prosecutors suspected a link between the two cases beyond their accusations of Hernandez’s involvement.
According to Conley, the night of the 2012 shootings unfolded when Hernandez and an associate went into the Cure Lounge at about the same time as the other men. The prosecutor would not describe what he called their "chance encounter," but said there was no evidence that Hernandez knew the victims beforehand.
After the men left, Hernandez followed in an SUV and pulled up alongside the men as their vehicle was stopped at a red light in Boston's South End, Conley said.
"Aaron Hernandez fired a .38-calibre revolver multiple times from the driver's side of his vehicle into the passenger's side of the victim's vehicle," killing de Abreu, 29 and Furtado, 28, said Conley.
The case remained unsolved for months, but following the Lloyd shooting, Conley said the SUV was found in Bristol, Connecticut, where Hernandez grew up, and the gun used in the double shooting was recovered from a person with ties to Hernandez. Previous court documents have said the vehicle was found at the home of Hernandez's uncle.
A grand jury heard testimony from more than 24 witnesses and examined more than 80 pieces of evidence before returning the indictments, Conley said. He said Hernandez's notoriety played no role in the investigation.
"This was never about Aaron Hernandez. This case was about two victims who were stopped, ambushed and senselessly murdered on the streets they called home," he said.
Hernandez's attorneys, Charles Rankin and James Sultan, said their client was looking forward to his day in court.
"It is one thing to make allegations at a press conference, and another thing to prove them in a courtroom. Unlike the district attorney, we are not going to try this case in the media," they said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Patriots said the team had no comment.
Tanya Singleton, Hernandez's cousin, was charged with criminal contempt of court in the indictment returned by a Suffolk County grand jury. Singleton was given immunity to testify before the grand jury but refused, Conley said.
Singleton's attorney, E. Peter Parker, called her prosecution "aggressive and unnecessary." He said his client, who is being treated for breast cancer, has suffered a number of health setbacks since being jailed more than six months ago.
Families of the victims in the Boston shooting have filed civil lawsuits against Hernandez seeking $6 million for the wrongful deaths of the two men.
Hernandez was expected to be arraigned on the new charges in Suffolk Superior Court next week. He is expected to be tried first in the Lloyd case.
Also Thursday, an associate of Hernandez's, Ernest Wallace, pleaded not guilty to murder in Lloyd's death. Wallace, who has been described by prosecutors as Hernandez's "right-hand man," has also pleaded not guilty to accessory charges in the killing.
-- June 8, 2010. Aaron Hernandez, a standout tight end drafted from the University of Florida, signs a four-year contract with the New England Patriots.
-- Jan. 1, 2012. Hernandez sets a career best with 138 receiving yards in a win over Buffalo.
-- July 16, 2012. Two men, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, are shot to death in their car as they wait for a red light in Boston's South End neighbourhood.
-- Aug. 27, 2012. Hernandez signs a five-year, $40 million contract with the Patriots.
-- February 2013. An associate of Hernandez, Alexander Bradley, is shot in the face in Florida. He files a lawsuit alleging that Hernandez shot him after they argued at a strip club.
-- June 17, 2013. The body of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's girlfriend, is found about a mile from Hernandez's mansion in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.
-- June 26, 2013. Hernandez is arrested on a murder charge in Lloyd's slaying and taken from his home in handcuffs. He later pleads not guilty. The Patriots release him hours after his arrest.
-- May 15, 2014. Hernandez is indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and other charges in connection with the shootings of Abreu and Furtado. His lawyers say he is innocent of the charges.