By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) – National Football League star Aaron Hernandez flew into a rage over a spilled drink and gunned down two strangers who he believed were “testing” him, prosecutors said on Wednesday as Hernandez pleaded not guilty to murder in the case.
Hernandez, a former New England Patriots tight end, is charged in the 2012 murders of Cape Verdean nationals Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado.
Hernandez made his first appearance in the case to enter his not guilty plea at a 16-minute hearing at Suffolk Superior Court in downtown Boston. He wore a suit and tie but remained handcuffed.
The arraignment marked the first step toward the second murder trial he faces after he was charged in June in the shooting death of semiprofessional football player Odin Lloyd in an apparently unrelated incident.
Prosecutors said on Wednesday their charges were based on the testimony of a friend of Hernandez who was with him that night and on video surveillance footage of the area.
Prosecutors said Hernandez began the night of the murders by hiding a .38-caliber handgun in the engine block of the silver SUV he was driving. After Abreu inadvertently spilled a drink on him in a nightclub, Hernandez followed the car Abreu and Furtado were riding in, pulled up alongside and shot the two dead, said Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan.
“The victims were completely unaware there was any problem with the defendant or anyone else,” when they left a nightclub in the early morning hours of June 17, 2012, Haggan recounted.
He said Hernandez told a friend with him that Abreu had “targeted and disrespected him,” claiming Abreu had deliberately spilled the drink, and watched for him to leave the club.
As the two men were driving home, Hernandez pulled up alongside their car, leaned out the driver’s side window, yelled, “Yo, What’s up now?,” followed by a racial slur and emptied his gun into the car, Haggan said.
Other passengers in Abreu’s vehicle heard a clicking noise indicating that Hernandez continued to pull the trigger after he had fired all his bullets, he said.
Hernandez’ lawyer complained to the court that the defense had been “subjected to wild and extravagant stories which have been reported as if they are true based on unnamed law enforcement sources.”
“It’s not fair. Whether the defendant is a football player or a poor person … he’s entitled to the court’s assistance in securing him a fair trial.”
Clerk Magistrate Gary Wilson responded that Hernandez had been treated no differently than any other criminal defendant.
Investigators linked Hernandez to the double-murder after the death of semi-pro football player Lloyd, who was found shot to death in an industrial park near Hernandez’s house in South Attleboro, Massachusetts, last June.
Hernandez had been seen as a rising star in the league and had a contract with the Patriots worth about $40 million. The team dropped him hours after his arrest.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
[Image: New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is arraigned on charges of murder and weapons violations in Attleborough, Massachusetts, after being arrested, in this June 26, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Mike George/Pool/Files]