Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez: Inside the Murder Investigation Roiling the NFL

Is New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez tied to a grisly Massachusetts murder?

He was the youngest player in the NFL when he was drafted three years ago. Last summer, he scored the largest signing bonus ever granted to a tight end. Now, however, New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez is being hounded by the press for his alleged role in a murder—and police have reportedly issued an arrest warrant for him.

Details about the homicide are still scant. On Monday afternoon, the body of Odin Lloyd, 27, was found by a jogger in an industrial park in Attleboro, Massachusetts, some 10 miles from the Patriots’ home stadium. Police believe Lloyd was shot in the head earlier that day between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

They also reportedly believe that Hernandez, 23, had been partying with Lloyd, a semi-pro linebacker with the Boston Bandits, over the weekend. The two were apparently friends—Lloyd had been dating the sister of Hernandez’s girlfriend.

Lloyd’s coach, Olivier Bustin, says he last saw Lloyd at a football scrimmage on Saturday night in Boston. “He was mentoring a younger guy in the scrimmage about technique you should use,” he said. “The player was being considered to go to college in Arizona and Odin was giving him a couple of tips.”

After the scrimmage, Bustin said Lloyd was “in good spirits and everything seemed to be fine … A lot of the guys go out,” he said. “I don’t know where he went, but he went out with a couple of ball players.” Bustin added: “He was a personable player who got along with everyone on the team. He always had a big smile on his face.”

The case has set off a local media firestorm, in part because of Hernandez’s high profile and in part because homicides are so unusual in the small city, some 40 miles outside of Boston. (The last murder there occurred in July of 2011.) On Thursday, a swarm of helicopters caused a scene by following the football player as he drove his white Audi SUV from his house to Gillette Stadium. They followed him again as he stopped at a local gas station to refuel and then drove to his attorney’s office in Boston.

“It is not a very crime-filled area,” said Bristol District Attorney Spokeswoman Yasmina Serdarevic. “It’s a suburban, quiet area.” As media reports abounded on Thursday that Hernandez was on the brink of being arrested, Serdarevic noted that no suspects have been named in the case. “It’s still an active investigation,” she said.

Hernandez’s camp is keeping relatively quiet. “It has been widely reported in the media that the state police have searched the home of our client, Aaron Hernandez, as part of an ongoing investigation,” wrote Michael Fee, an attorney at Ropes and Gray, in a released statement. “Out of respect for that process, neither we nor Aaron will have any comment about the substance of that investigation until it has come to a conclusion.”

Meanwhile, police have asked for the public’s help in finding a broken mirror from a silver vehicle they believe is linked to the murder—but they won’t say in what way. Bristol District Attorney Samuel Sutter said the mirror “is believed to have been broken off a vehicle, and may be visible along a route of travel between Dorchester and North Attleboro.” ABC reported that investigators have searched three Enterprise rental cars that were registered to Hernandez, including one that was missing a silver mirror.

ABC, citing an investigator close to the case, also reported that police are planning to serve another search warrant at Hernandez’s home, which he shares with his girlfriend and infant daughter, based on evidence that he intentionally smashed his elaborate home security system. According to the news station, Hernandez also allegedly smashed his cell phone into pieces before handing it over to police and hired cleaners to scrub his mansion on Monday.

For the most part, former and current New England teammates describe Hernandez as an enthusiastic player with “some minor maturity issues,” according to Sports Illustrated. One friend told the magazine that Hernandez was having difficulty moving on from his past life. “It was a thug life,” was the way one teammate put it.

The current investigation is not the first time that Hernandez, who played football with the University of Florida Gators, has stood accused. On June 13, Alexander S. Bradley filed a civil lawsuit against Hernandez in Florida, seeking over $100,000 in damages from the football player whom he claims purposefully shot him with an unregistered gun. According to the lawsuit, Bradley alleges he got into an argument with Hernandez at Tootsie’s strip club in Miami on February 13. Later, when they were driving to Palm Beach, Hernandez’s gun discharged “while aiming it at [Bradley].” Bradley claims he lost his right eye and had to undergo numerous surgeries around his eye to reconstruct his face. Because of the shooting, he “had plates and screws inserted in the right side of his face” as well as twitches, headaches, and difficulty eating.

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“Hernandez’ actions in having the gun discharged while aimed at [Bradley] were deliberate and with the intent by [Hernandez] to cause harm to [Bradley],” the suit alleges.

According to Sports Illustrated, Hernandez was also involved in an incident in which police found a gun underneath a car after a Jets fan got in Hernandez’s face on May 18 in Providence, Rhode Island. Michael E. Correia, a detective with the Providence police department, told the magazine that officers could not determine who placed the gun under the car. “We couldn’t determine if the person was with Hernandez or with the person who seemed to be taunting Aaron Hernandez,” Correia told Sports Illustrated.

On another occasion, police interviewed Hernandez along with other players after a shooting at a Gainesville, Florida, bar in 2007. However, Hernandez was not considered a suspect.

According to Sports Illustrated, Hernandez acknowledged to various NFL teams that he failed drug tests before the 2010 NFL draft. Sources told Sports Illustrated that teams were worried about Hernandez’s affiliation with miscreant hangers-on and gang members.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Hernandez played football at the University of Connecticut. He in fact played for the University of Florida Gators.