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Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez pleaded not guilty Friday to first-degree murder and gun charges in connection with the shooting death of his friend, Odin Lloyd.
The mothers of both the victim and the accused wept as the charges were read at a brief arraignment in Fall River, Mass., Superior Court, where a few spectators wore Hernandez football jerseys.
Hernandez, 24, allegedly killed Lloyd on June 17, 2013, because he was upset the 27-year-old semipro football player had been been talking to people he didn't like. His body was found in an industrial park not far from Hernandez's home in North Attleborough, Mass.
Wearing a dark suit, Hernandez didn't speak beyond entering his plea. Prosecutors and the defense agreed he will be held without bail until a hearing on Oct. 9.
In back-to-back press conferences after the arraignment, the defense and prosecution clashed over the strength of the case against Hernandez.
"Not one shred of evidence has been presented yet and we feel confident that when evidence is finally presented in a court of law, Aaron will be exonerated," defense lawyer Charles Rankin said, declining to take further questions.
Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter then noted that in two previous bail hearings, he presented more than 500 pages of documents outlining some of the evidence — much of it circumstantial — against the NFL star.
"Perhaps they didn’t want to hear that again or hear what we have acquired since," he said of the defense's decision not to seek bail this time around.
"There’s a tremendous amount of evidence," he said.
Asked whether the evidence could sustain a first-degree murder charge, Sutter said it could. But he noted that under Massachusetts law, the indictment covers lesser counts such as second-degree murder or manslaughter.
"The final verdict on that will be when the jury speaks at the conclusion of the trial," he said.
Lloyd's family, he said, is "anxious" for the case to go to trial — a process that could take between one and two years — and said he was impressed by the parents' strength.
"He was a really fine young man from what I’ve gathered so far," he said of the victim.
Meanwhile, Lloyd's girlfriend, Shaneah Jenkins, told NECN that she's tired of the focus on Hernandez.
"Every time there’s a story out it's always about the alleged murder and it's not about the tragedy that happened to Odin," she said. "The loss that all of us have taken and the fact that he is a human and his life was taken."
Jenkins also denied that Lloyd was a drug dealer.
"He wouldn't be involved in those negative things. That’s not just him at all," she said.
It was Jenkins' own sister — Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins — who first told police that Lloyd was dabbling in drugs, telling them that he received constant calls from customers and talked in marijuana "lingo," according to court papers.
Those same documents said that police interviewed some two dozen people who knew Lloyd and none of them said he was a drug dealer.
Shayanna Jenkins, who has a child with Hernandez, stopped cooperating with investigators soon after Hernandez was taken in for questioning about Lloyd's death, the documents said.
The fiancee was with Hernandez when his own home-security system captured him on videotape holding what appears to be a gun a few hours before he allegedly met and killed Lloyd.
Shayanna Jenkins, who attended the arraignment, has not been charged with any crimes.
Hernandez's cousin, Tanya Singleton, was indicted on a contempt charge for refusing to testify before a grand jury even after she was given immunity. Singleton has pleaded not guilty.
Another Hernandez pal, Ernest Wallace, 41, has also been charged, with acting as an accessory after the fact. Prosecutors say he and another man, Carlos Ortiz, were with Hernandez when he shot Lloyd.
Ortiz, who is being held on a gun rap, allegedly claimed he was asleep in the car at the time but that Wallace later told him Hernandez was the one who fired a pistol five times at Lloyd.