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FALL RIVER (CBSMiami/AP) — The New England Patriots are set to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, but their former star Aaron Hernandez went on trial on murder charges Thursday.
Hernandez’s lawyer countered by arguing that police and prosecutors “locked” in on the NFL player as a suspect from the very beginning, ignored evidence and conducted a “sloppy and unprofessional” investigation.
Hernandez, 25, is charged in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old semiprofessional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee. Lloyd’s bullet-riddled body was found in an industrial park near Hernandez’s North Attleborough home, not far from Gillette Stadium.
Hernandez — who had a $40 million contract as a tight end with the Patriots but was cut by the team just hours after his 2013 arrest — could get life in prison if convicted. On Sunday, the Patriots will meet the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
In a separate murder case that has yet to come to trial, Hernandez was charged last year in Boston with killing two men in 2012 after someone spilled a drink on him at a nightclub.
Prosecutors in this trial have suggested that Lloyd may have been killed because he knew too much about that crime. But the judge has ruled that prosecutors cannot tell the jury about those slayings.
In opening statements Thursday, District Attorney Patrick Bomberg took jurors through what he said was the sequence of events that led to Lloyd’s killing.
He played before-and-after footage that he said showed Lloyd getting into a car driven by Hernandez, then video taken shortly afterward at the NFL player’s home, without Lloyd in the car.
The prosecutor also presented an image taken off Hernandez’s video surveillance system that showed Hernandez standing outside his basement, holding what Bomberg said was a gun.
As the prosecutor showed jurors a photo of Lloyd’s body, his mother was overcome and had to leave the courtroom briefly.
Defense attorney Michael Fee told the jury that Hernandez is an innocent man.
“Aaron never had a chance,” Fee said. “They locked on Aaron and they targeted him.”
He said the evidence would show that Hernandez did not kill Lloyd and did not ask anyone to do so. He said authorities could offer no motive for the killing.
“The investigation was sloppy and unprofessional. What about the facts that showed Aaron’s innocence?” he said. “The evidence will show that they were ignored.”
Noting that Hernandez had long-term football contract, a new house, a fiancée and a 7-month-old baby, the defense attorney said Hernandez “was planning a future, not a murder.”
Evidence that Hernandez was at the scene is not enough to convict him, Fee said.
“Mere presence is not enough. We can’t be convicted of a crime just because we hang with the wrong people or are in the wrong place,” he told the jury.
Hernandez often leaned forward in court, paying close attention to opening statements and witness testimony, including the account of Matthew Kent, who was a high school freshman when he found Lloyd’s body while jogging.
Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, sat behind him with Hernandez’s brother, DJ, who coaches college football in Iowa.
Prosecutors say Hernandez and two friends, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, picked Lloyd up at his home in Boston, drove him to the industrial park and shot him. Ortiz and Wallace will be tried separately.
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