FALL RIVER, MA - Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was indicted Thursday on a first-degree murder charge in the death of a friend whose bullet-riddled body was found in an industrial park about a mile from the ex-player's home.
The six-count grand jury indictment charges Hernandez with killing 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player from Boston who was dating the sister of Hernandez's girlfriend. It also contains weapons counts, according to the Fall River division of Bristol County Superior Court.
Hernandez, 23, pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons charges in June, and he is being held without bail at a county jail. His lawyers say the case against him is circumstantial and they're confident he will be able to clear his name.
Hernandez signed a new Patriots contract last summer worth $40 million but was cut from the team within hours of his June 26 arrest, when police led the handcuffed athlete from his home as news cameras rolled.
He could face life in prison if convicted. He was due to appear in Attleboro court later Thursday.
A jogger found Lloyd's body on June 17 in a North Attleborough industrial park. His mother, Ursula Ward, called him a loving son who never hurt anyone and implored law enforcement officials to get justice for his slaying.
Prosecutors say Hernandez orchestrated Lloyd's killing because he was upset at him for talking to people Hernandez had problems with at a nightclub days earlier. They say Hernandez and two associates, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, picked Lloyd up at his home in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood early on June 17 and then drove to the industrial park.
Shortly before his death, authorities say, Lloyd sent his sister text messages. He asked if she had seen who he was with when he got into the car in Boston. Then he indicated who it was in a way that Lloyd's family said he knew his sister would understand. "NFL," he wrote. "Just so you know."
Moments later, authorities say, Lloyd was dead after gunshots rang out in an unpaved construction area by a warehouse after he apparently got out of the car for what he thought was a bathroom break.
Authorities have not said who fired the shots, but according to court documents, Ortiz told police in Florida that Wallace said it was Hernandez.
Wallace has pleaded not guilty to a charge of accessory to murder after the fact. Ortiz has pleaded not guilty to a firearm charge. Both are being held in jail without bail.
Authorities have said they haven't found the murder weapon, which they believe was a .45-caliber Glock pistol. But they recovered a magazine for .45-caliber bullets in Hernandez's Hummer as well as ammunition of the same caliber inside a condo he rented in Franklin, Mass.
Authorities also recovered a shell casing that matched those found at the homicide scene after tracking the rental car Hernandez was in the night Lloyd died.
Since then, Boston police have asked police in Hernandez's hometown of Bristol, Conn., for their help with the probe into Lloyd's homicide as well as a 2012 double homicide near a Boston nightclub. A Connecticut police lieutenant said authorities searched the home of Hernandez's uncle, seizing an SUV sought in the double killing that had been rented in Hernandez's name.
Two men died in the July 2012 shooting in Boston's South End, with witnesses reporting that gunfire came from inside a gray SUV with Rhode Island tags. Boston police haven't reported any arrests in the deaths of 29-year-old Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and 28-year-old Safiro Teixeira Furtado and won't comment on whether Hernandez is a suspect.
Hernandez is also facing civil litigation after a Connecticut man filed a lawsuit asserting the former player shot him in the face in February after they argued at a Miami strip club. Alexander Bradley, who says he lost an eye, told police at the time he didn't know who shot him.
In July, a judge ordered him to appear before the Fall River, Mass., grand jury hearing evidence against Hernandez in Lloyd's homicide.