By Scott Malone
FALL RIVER Mass. (Reuters) - Attorneys for former NFL star Aaron Hernandez on Monday called on a judge to throw out charges that the ex-tight end murdered a semiprofessional football player in June 2013, one of three homicides Hernandez is charged with.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors probing the death of Odin Lloyd, an associate of Hernandez's who was found shot dead in an industrial park near the former New England Patriots' home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, failed to produce evidence showing that Hernandez had a motive to commit the crime or linking him to the shooting.
"This was, we submit, a deliberate campaign not to enlighten the grand jury about evidence which would help them decide who had in fact committed this crime, but to tarnish Mr. Hernandez, his character, his background in such a way that they would overlook the absence of direct evidence of culpability," defense attorney James Sultan told a pre-trial hearing in Fall River District Court.
Prosecutors countered, saying they had presented volumes of evidence, including witness testimony and video from surveillance cameras in Hernandez' home that link him to the murder. Police have not recovered the handgun used in the shooting.
Hernandez, who is also charged with gunning down two men he encountered at a Boston nightclub in an apparently unrelated incident in 2012, sat quietly in court during Monday's hearing, wearing a blue blazer and tie. Associate Justice Susan Garsh allowed Hernandez's handcuffs to be removed during the hearing, a request that had been denied in a Boston courtroom last month.
Prosecutors argued that, in addition to their direct evidence, Hernandez's involvement in other shootings was relevant in the case. They noted that both the alleged murder of Lloyd and the alleged shooting of Cape Verdean nationals Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado in 2012 traced back to a dispute at a nightclub.
"These incidents seemed to have a suggestion of a common plan or pattern," said William McCauley, first assistant district attorney for Bristol County. "All starting out in a nightclub, gun produced, whether a shooting followed or not. And it was our duty to inquire into these things to determine what relevance they were."
Defense attorneys also asked the judge to throw out some of the evidence gathered in a search of Hernandez' home.
Hernandez also pleaded not guilty to the February assault of a fellow jail inmate in the Bristol County House of Corrections after the two got into a verbal alteration.
Garsh said she would consider beginning Hernandez's trial over Lloyd's death on Oct. 6. Prosecutors estimated that it would last for up to two months.
Hernandez has denied all three murders. The Patriots cut ties with Hernandez hours after his arrest last June.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Susan Heavey)