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What Legal Ramifications is Aaron Hernandez Facing?

The NFL is no stranger to controversy. Since the Ravens took home the victory in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 of this year, 27 players have been arrested and charged with a range of crimes, from public intoxication to attempted murder. One of the latest names to add to this list is Aaron Hernandez, a now-former tight end for the New England Patriots, who is facing first-degree murder charges.

Aaron Hernandez was allegedly involved in the murder of Odin Lloyd, 27, a semi-pro football player who played for a team called the Boston Bandits. Lloyd’s body was found on June 17 in an industrial park about a half-mile from where Hernandez resides, his body riddled with bullets.

So what may have provoked Hernandez, a 23-year-old rising football star with a multi-million dollar contract with the Patriots, and who helped lead the team to the Super Bowl last year, to murder Lloyd, a friend who had been dating his fiancé’s sister? Hernandez was with Lloyd at a club called Rumor on June 14, and Lloyd was associating with some people Hernandez “had troubles with.” Additionally, Hernandez may have been involved in an unsolved double murder from July 2012, and Lloyd may have had information that could tie Hernandez to the murders. This could provide a clear motive for the murder of Lloyd.

As the investigation unfolded and law enforcement collected evidence tying Hernandez to the homicide, Hernandez certainly wasn’t acting innocent. Reports claim he hired a cleaning crew to tidy up his $1.7 million mansion in North Attleboro, and he also intentionally destroyed his cell phone and the surveillance equipment at his residence.

Following a thorough search of his home and the industrial area where Lloyd’s body was found, an arrest warrant was issued and executed on the morning of June 26, when Hernandez was escorted from his home in handcuffs. Soon after that, he was formally charged with first-degree murder and five gun-related charges: one count of carrying a firearm without a license, two counts of possession of a large capacity firearm, and two counts of possession of a firearm without an FID card (which is different than a license to carry, and allows a person to possess non-large-capacity rifles and shotguns in his/her home). About two hours after his arrest, the Patriots released Hernandez from the team. He is currently being held without bail at Bristol County House of Correction and Jail in North Dartmouth.

Reports also allege that Hernandez did not act alone. Two other men – Carlos Ortiz, 27, and Ernest Wallace, 41 – were with Hernandez when he picked up Lloyd at his home around 2:30am on the morning of June 17. When the conversation turned towards what happened at the nightclub, Lloyd apparently felt nervous because he sent a text message to his sister asking if she knew who he was with, and when she asked who, he answered with another text: “NFL,” then moments later, “Just so you know.” Not long after those text messages were exchanged, gunshots were heard by people working at the industrial park where Lloyd’s body was found.

All of the suspects in the murder of Odin Lloyd are currently in custody. Carlos Ortiz is being held without bail on charges of illegally possessing a firearm. Ernest Wallace surrendered at a Florida police station on June 28 and is currently being held on charges of being an accessory after the fact to murder.

Shortly after his arrest, Hernandez was arraigned on June 26, and he pled not guilty to all of the charges. His next appearance in court will be July 24, when he has a probable cause hearing, during which the prosecution will present the evidence against him, and a determination will be made about whether the evidence is strong enough to bind him over for trial. The judge assigned to the case stated that it is a “very, very strong circumstantial case.” Hernandez’s attorney, Michael Fee, disagreed, proclaiming the case against his client “weak.”

As is true with all criminal defendants, Hernandez is presumed innocent until he faces a jury of his peers, who must find him guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. If he is indeed found guilty of first-degree murder, he is facing a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole – the death penalty won’t be on the table because it was abolished by Massachusetts in 1984.

He is also being charged with five felony gun charges. Each charge of possessing a large-capacity weapon carries a sentence of two and one-half to ten years. Apparently, since all of the gun charges are punishable under the same statute, Title I, c. 269, § 10 of the Massachusetts Code, subsequent gun-related offenses carry longer sentences. A second conviction could mean a five- to seven-year sentence; a third offense, seven to ten years; a fourth offense, ten to fifteen years. Of course, if Hernandez is convicted of first-degree murder, these gun charges and related sentences will be insignificant if he is sentenced to life without parole.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds, and how Hernandez’s attorney deflects the evidence tying his client to the murder. Also, the investigation is ongoing, and new allegations, statements from sources close to the investigation, and various perspectives and explanations of the evidence appear nearly every day. When Aaron Hernandez has his day in court, which won’t happen for several months, we will see the defendant and his attorney go head-to-head with the prosecution. Nevertheless, with one man shot dead in cold blood and a year-old double murder being linked to Hernandez, he likely won’t be living outside a jail cell anytime soon.