ATTLEBORO, Mass. — New England tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of a man prosecutors say angered him at a nightclub.
Hernandez, 23, was arrested Wednesday, nine days after Odin Lloyd's body was found in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez's home in the Boston suburb of North Attleborough.
About two hours later, the Patriots released the former Florida Gator, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract ($12.5 million signing bonus) in 2012.
At his arraignment, Hernandez pleaded not guilty to murder and five weapons charges, and was ordered jailed after being denied bail. A probable cause hearing was set for July 24. If convicted, Hernandez, a native of Bristol, Conn., faces life in prison without parole.
"It is … a circumstantial case," Hernandez's lawyer, Michael Fee, said. "It is not a strong case."
Hernandez, prosecutor Bill McCauley said, "orchestrated the execution." Lloyd, 27, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee, was shot five times, including twice in the chest while he was on the ground, authorities said.
Hernandez showed no emotion as the charges were read. He rarely looked at the packed rows of seating in the courtroom. Lloyd's family members cried and hugged as the prosecutor outlined his case. Two were so overcome with emotion, they had to leave the courtroom.
McCauley said the death took place because of an incident at a Boston club called Rumor on June 14. He said Lloyd talked to people Hernandez "had troubles with." Two days later, he said, Hernandez sent a text message to two friends from out of state and asked them to hurry to Massachusetts.
Surveillance footage from Hernandez's home showed him leaving with a gun and telling someone he was upset and couldn't trust anyone anymore, the prosecutor said.
The three men drove 45 minutes to Boston to pick up Lloyd at his home at about 2:30 a.m. June 17, authorities said. As they drove around in their rented car, the four discussed what happened at the nightclub, McCauley said.
Lloyd texted his sister, "Did you see who I am with?" When she asked with whom, he responded, at 3:22 a.m., "NFL." A minute later, he sent his final text: "Just so you know."
Within a few minutes, people working the overnight shift at the industrial park reported hearing gunshots, McCauley said. Surveillance video showed the car going into a remote area of the industrial park and emerging four minutes later, the prosecutor said. A short time later, Hernandez returned to his house, and he and one of the other men were seen on his home surveillance system holding guns, McCauley said. Then the system stopped recording, the prosecutor said.
Hernandez had recently installed the system and had 14 cameras inside and out, said McCauley, who said the missing footage was from the six to eight hours after the slaying.
Investigators did not specify who fired the shots. They also did not identify the two men with Hernandez or say if they were under arrest.
McCauley said Hernandez and his friends later returned the car to the rental agency and Hernandez offered the attendant a piece of blue chewing gum. She found a .45-caliber shell casing and a piece of what appeared to be chewed blue gum in the car and threw them out.
Investigators retrieved the items from a trash bin, and the casing matched others found where Lloyd was killed, McCauley said. The weapons seen on the surveillance footage haven't been found, he said.
The Patriots in a statement called releasing Hernandez, "simply the right thing to do."
The NFL stopped selling Hernandez's jersey on its website and released a statement: "Aaron Hernandez will have his day in court. At the same time, we should not forget the young man who was the victim in this case and take this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathy to Odin Lloyd's family and friends."