Updated 4:13 p.m.: Aaron Hernandez, a 23-year-old rising star with the Patriots, was charged with murder and let go by the team Wednesday, another blot on the NFL’s tightly protected image.
Hernandez was charged in a Massachusetts court with one count of murder and five weapons violations in the shooting death of a 27-year-old man. Michael Fee, a lawyer for the Patriots tight end, entered a plea of not guilty.
Hernandez had been questioned by investigators and his house searched since the body of Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player for the Boston Bandits, was discovered on June 17 in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez’s house.
In court, prosecutors said that Lloyd was shot five times and that two passed through his body while he lay on the ground.
Shortly before his death, Lloyd sent his last two text messages to his sister. One read “NFL” and the last read, “just so you know,” prosecutors said.
The charges were a setback for the NFL. Over the years, despite efforts to protect itself from controversy, the league has been dragged into a string of scandals by players stretching from O.J. Simpson’s murder trial in 1995 to more recent cases involving dog fighting, injury bounties, spying and gambling.
Wearing a white T-shirt and orange shorts, Hernandez was escorted out of his mansion in North Attleborough, Mass., and placed in the back of a police cruiser Wednesday morning, according to video aired by WBZ, a CBS affiliate.
He made his initial court appearance later in the day.
A police officer familiar with the investigation said late last week that authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Hernandez on charges of obstruction of justice. The allegations were that Hernandez destroyed his cellphone and video surveillance system and had his home professionally cleaned the day Lloyd’s body was found.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement that Hernandez’s arrest was “deeply troubling” and he “will have his day in court.”
The Patriots said in a statement soon after the arrest that Hernandez had been cut from the team.
“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,” the statement said.)