A player with the popular American football team, the New England Patriots, was arrested and later charged with counts of first degree murder and weapons violations, rocking a sport that has tried in recent years to fend off a slow trickle of harmful headlines.
Video showed Aaron Hernandez, 23, being escorted in handcuffs from his mansion in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, this morning. The player, who only recently had signed a new contract extension worth a total of about $40 million, was taken away in a police car and appeared later in Attleborough District Court for his arraignment. He was remanded into custody without bail.
Police investigators have been seen over the last several days searching for evidence in the vicinity of the football star’s luxury home. The probe followed the discovery on 17 June of the body of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd just about about one mile away. He had apparently been killed by serial bullet wounds.
Swiftly after the arrest of Mr Hernandez, the Patriots announced that he had been ejected from the team. In a statement the team said the events were “deeply troubling” and the player would have “ his day in court”. It added: “We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do”.
Investigators gave no information on a possible motive for the killing. It appeared, however, that Mr Hernandez, who had been a key defence player on the Patriot bench, and the slightly older victim had been friends. It seemed, meanwhile, that Mr Lloyd had been dating the sister of Mr Hernandez’s fiance.
Mr Lloyd had been shot multiple times in the back, groin, legs and chest, when his body was found, officials said. Witnesses had spoken of the two men visiting a nightclub in the area southwest of Boston a few days earlier and having had some kind of altercation.
The National Football League, NFL, of which the Patriots is one of the most successful franchises, works hard to keep its image clean. Yet scandals and assorted tawdry tales frequently undermine the effort stretching all the way back to the murder trial of former mega-star player O.J Simpson in the 1990s. The so-called ‘ bounty scandal’ of four years ago involved players being paid bonuses for inflicting injury’s on players of opposing teams.
While it took several days for charges to be filed against Mr Hernandez, prosecutors projected confidence in their case. They noted that final text messages sent Mr Lloyd to his sister mentioned both “NFL” and “just so you know”. Meanwhile a police source said that an arrest warrant had been issued last week for Mr Hernandez on charges of obstruction of justice relating to his having allegedly destroyed security video tapes in his home and having it sanitised by an industrial cleaning company.
The NFL said in a statement that “the involvement of an NFL player in a case of this nature is deeply troubling. The Patriots have released Aaron Hernandez, who will have his day in court. At the same time, we should not forget the young man who was the victim in this case and take this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathy to Odin Lloyd’s family and friends.”