Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is expected to stand trial next May on murder charges connected to a drive-by shooting and slayings of two men in their car in Boston 2012 after one of them accidentally bumped into him at a Boston nightclub, spilling a drink.
Hernandez pleaded not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court in the shooting deaths of Daniel de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, who prosecutors say were killed after a chance encounter at Club Cure early on the morning of July 16, 2012.
Hernandez's handcuffs were removed during the court appearance on Tuesday, at the request of his attorneys.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Hernandez's lawyers asked Judge Jeffrey Locke to issue a gag order prohibiting anyone involved in the case from commenting outside court.
They said they were concerned Hernandez wouldn't get a fair trial because of extensive media coverage on the double slayings and another murder case against Hernandez in the 2013 death of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd.
Prosecutors objected, saying they hadn't made any improper comments about the case.
The judge didn't immediately rule.
During the shooting, a third man was wounded when Hernandez allegedly fired shots as the victims were stopped at a traffic light.
Hernandez, who is being held without bail, is already awaiting trial for the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, which took place nearly a year later. Lloyd's body was found near Hernandez's North Attleboro home, and the accused has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Prosecutors in the double homicide case said Hernandez, a Bristol, Connecticut, native, had become became "increasingly sensitive" in the months prior to the shooting by what he thought were people “testing, trying and otherwise disrespecting him when he frequented area nightclubs.”
Hernandez and a friend had been in Manchester, Connecticut before heading to Boston and Hernandez placed a loaded .38 caliber revolver in the engine block of his Toyota 4-Runner before heading to the club, prosecutors said.
The victims and their friends had arrived at the nightclub at the same time as Hernandez and his friend, but they had never before met, according to prosecutors.
Inside the club, Hernandez and his friend were standing at the edge of the dance floor, when de Abreu accidentally bumped into Hernandez, spilling some of his drink, according to the prosecution.
Hernandez was agitated and told a friend that de Abreu had deliberately bumped him, prosecutors said.
After several more drinks, Hernandez said he thought the victims were targeting and following him, according to the prosecutors. He later tracked down de Abreu and his friends and opened fire on their car from his SUV, prosecutors said.
After the fatal shooting, Hernandez and his friend headed back to Connecticut on the Mass Turnpike.
"I think I got one in the head and one in the chest," he told his friend, according to prosecutors.
After the shooting, prosecutors said Hernandez fled to Hartford, Connecticut.
"The defendant contacted his cousin Tanya Singleton to come from her home in Bristol, Connecticut to the Hartford address," Suffolk County First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan said. "Singleton arrived and then left a short time later now driving the defendant's SUV."
The car that prosecutors believe was used during the double murder was found in Singleton's garage on Lake Avenue in Bristol in June 2103. It had been in the garage for so long that the battery was dead and the vehicle was covered in cobwebs, according to authorities, who believe the SUV had not been driven in quite some time.
A weapon matching the one used during the murders was found in a car after a crash on Route 91 in Longmeadow, Massachusetts on June 21, 2013, according to prosecutors. They said the driver was from Bristol, Connecticut and has connections to Hernandez.
During the arraignment, Hernandez's defense team criticized the "spectacle" of the proceedings, accused the court of playing to the prosecution and claimed the jury pool was being poisoned.
"We've been subjected to wild and extravagant stories which have been reported as if they are true, based on unnamed law enforcement sources," Charles Rankin, a member of Hernandez's defense team, said.
The judge defended the proceedings and said the prosecution is always afforded the opportunity to address the court with the facts of the case.