Authorities are investigating whether Aaron Hernandez, the NFL star accused of murder in the recent shooting death of a friend, was involved in the drive-by killings of two men last year, sources told NBC News on Thursday.
The men, Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado, were shot to death from an SUV on July 16, 2012, after leaving a Boston nightclub. Police put out a description of the SUV but never made an arrest. A third person was shot and survived.
Suffolk County prosecutors said Thursday that the investigation was active but declined comment on whether Hernandez was involved.
Hernandez was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the execution-style killing earlier this month of Odin Lloyd, whose body was discovered in an industrial park not far from Hernandez’s home. Hernandez, an All-Pro tight end, was released by the New England Patriots after his arrest.
Prosecutors said he had summoned two friends from out of state before driving to pick up Lloyd and carry out the killing.
On Thursday, Hernandez was denied bail for a second time. Superior Court Judge Renee Dupuis said that the state’s case appeared “circumstantial but very, very strong.” Hernandez was appealing a denial of bail by another judge the day before.
Prosecutors said they had uncovered four new pieces of evidence in less than 24 hours after searching a condo leased by Hernandez. They said they had found ammunition, a clip and a picture of Hernandez with a Glock handgun.
William McCauley, an assistant district attorney, also said that Hernandez had interfered with the investigation by home surveillance-camera video and instructing his girlfriend not to talk to investigators.
“The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming,” prosecutor William McCauley said.
Hernandez’s lawyers argued that he deserved bail because of his upstanding character and clean record, and because he was not a risk to flee. They noted that he stayed put last week, when rumors circulated in the media that Hernandez was about to be arrested. The judge was unmoved.
Considering the details of the case, “The idea that I could release him on a bracelet and he would comply with court rules is not something that I am willing to accept,” Dupuis said. “A bracelet just wouldn’t keep him here. Nor would $250,000.”
Hernandez watched from along one wall of the courtroom, standing behind a partition and shackled at the wrists. He has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge and five gun charges.
Meanwhile, authorities in Connecticut announced they had charged a second man in connection with Lloyd’s killing — Carlos Ortiz of Bristol, the city where Hernandez grew up. Ortiz was charged as a fugitive from justice, appeared in court and agreed to return to Massachusetts, said Brian Preleski, the state’s attorney for New Britain.
Ortiz’s connection to the investigation was unclear, and the prosecutor gave no other details. Ortiz was being him on $1.5 million. His public defender declined comment.
And late Thursday, the Bristol District Attorney's office announced that another man, Ernest "Fish" Wallace, was wanted in connection with the murder of Lloyd. Officials said he was an "accessory after murder" and was presumed armed and dangerous.
Hernandez, 23, was being held at Bristol County Jail in Dartmouth, Mass., where the sheriff said he would be treated like any other inmate — no workout equipment, no TV, no Internet access and, on the first night, spaghetti for dinner.
Prosecutors in Massachusetts laid out a detailed account of Lloyd’s killing on Wednesday but did not say who fired the fatal shot. They said that Hernandez was apparently upset that Lloyd, three nights earlier at a nightclub, was talking to people Hernandez had problems with.
Prosecutors say Hernandez was still fuming from the nightclub dispute three days earlier when he orchestrated the killing June 17.
They said Hernandez summoned the two friends from out of state, and also texted Lloyd to say that he wanted to get together. They say the three picked Lloyd up at his house at 2:30 a.m. Surveillance footage from Hernandez’s house shows him leaving earlier in the night with a weapon, they said.
They said Lloyd got into the car and texted his sister, “Did you see who I am with,” and later added, “NFL” and “Just so you know.” Prosecutors said Thursday that they believe Lloyd sent the texts because he was concerned for his safety.
Later that morning, between 3:23 a.m. and 3:27 a.m., workers on the overnight shift at the industrial park reported hearing gunshots, authorities said. It was not clear who investigators believe fired the shots.
Prosecutors say security videos from Hernandez’s house show him with firearms after Lloyd was murdered and show a Nissan Altima — the same type of car Hernandez had rented — coming and going at the industrial park.
Surveillance footage captured Hernandez getting out of the car at his house at 3:29 a.m. with a gun, prosecutors say.
The Patriots cut him within hours after he was led from his home in handcuffs. The team had given Hernandez a five-year, $40 million contract last summer, including a $12.5 million signing bonus. The investigation also cost Hernandez his endorsement deal with CytoSport, the maker of the Muscle Milk supplement drink.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.