By Daniel Lovering
FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Friday in the trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, who is accused of fatally shooting a semi-professional football player near his Massachusetts home in June 2013.
Hundreds of potential jurors filed into Fall River Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts, to fill out questionnaires as part of the jury selection process, which will continue into next week.
Hernandez, 25, has been charged with killing Odin Lloyd, whose bullet-riddled body was found in an industrial park near Hernandez's house in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, on June 17, 2013. He also faces various firearms-related charges.
The former tight end had been a rising star in the National Football League with a $41 million contract with the Patriots when he was arrested and cut from the team days after Lloyd's body was found.
Lloyd, 27, had been dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins. Prosecutors said he and Hernandez had argued after Lloyd socialized at a nightclub with people Hernandez disliked.
Two of Hernandez's friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, were also arrested in the slaying and will be tried separately. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
Hernandez has since been charged with killing two other men who prosecutors contend he shot dead outside a Boston nightclub in 2012 following a dispute over a spilled drink. He has also pleaded not guilty in that case.
In the first of three sessions on Friday, Massachusetts Superior Court Associate Justice Susan Garsh addressed 125 potential jurors and introduced prosecutors as well as Hernandez, who appeared wearing a jacket and tie, and his attorneys.
Garsh has summoned more than 1,100 potential jurors from Bristol County over three days to fill out questionnaires to help determine their suitability for jury service. The number will be narrowed to 18, including six alternates, in the coming days.
The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks, and prosecutors have assembled a list of nearly 300 potential witnesses, according to Bristol County District Attorney's office.
Last month, Garsh ruled the jury hearing the Lloyd case will not be told about the Boston killings. In that case, prosecutors contend Hernandez flew into a rage over a spilled drink and tailed two strangers, Cape Verdean nationals Daniel Abreu and Safirdo Furtado, killing them outside a nightclub.
Hernandez's roster of high-powered Boston attorneys, including James Sultan and Michael Fee, have helped him win key early procedural victories, said Boston College law professor Robert Bloom.
"The prosecution has a tremendous amount of resources and it's very rare that a criminal defendant can match those resources," Bloom said.
Prosecutors are heading into the trial under the leadership of a new district attorney, Thomas Quinn, who was named to the post on an acting basis last week after predecessor Sam Sutter was elected mayor of Fall River.
Quinn, a 16-year veteran of the Bristol County District Attorney's office, said the change at the top will not affect trial strategy.
(Writing by Daniel Lovering and Scott Malone; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Christian Plumb)