By Daniel Lovering
FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) – A bomb scare interrupted the murder trial of ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez on Thursday, forcing dozens of people including the judge, attorneys, reporters and Hernandez himself out of the courthouse for two hours.
Hernandez, 25, is charged with fatally shooting semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd in an industrial park near his house in June 2013. His trial began in late January and he faces life in prison if convicted.
On Thursday, Associate Justice Susan Garsh ruled that parts of phone conversations the former New England Patriots player had from jail after his arrest could be admitted as evidence, despite defense team claims they were irrelevant.
But proceedings at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River were interrupted around noon, when a court officer ordered everyone to evacuate because of a bomb threat.
Jurors were moved to a building across the street from the courthouse and Hernandez was placed in a secured prison van. Others stood in the rain across the street from the courthouse as state police swept the building. The threat was cleared and the trial resumed at 2pm ET.
“At this time, there is no known connection between this incident and any of the court cases ongoing at the Fall River Justice Center today,” Jeffrey Morrow, security director for the Massachusetts Trial Court, said in a statement.
Prosecutors say Hernandez and two friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, picked up Lloyd at his Boston home early June 17, 2013, and drove him to an industrial park near Hernandez’s house in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, where his bullet-riddled body was found hours later.
Wallace and Ortiz have also been charged with murder and will be tried separately. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Hernandez had a $41 million contract as tight end for the New England Patriots, but was dropped from the team hours after his arrest in 2013.
Judge Garsh ruled in documents filed on Thursday that portions of transcripts of the calls between Hernandez, friends and family members during his jail time could be admitted as evidence.
Among the excerpts allowed by the judge are exchanges between Hernandez and his cousin, Tanya Singleton, who faces charges related to the case, in which he tells her to “watch what you write” in letters to him. “Obviously don’t say nothing” he tells her, to which she replies: “I know. I’m not saying nothing. I love you so much.”
Another Hernandez cousin, Jennifer Mercado, testified that Wallace and Ortiz appeared jittery and sweaty when she saw them the night of the murder. She said they behaved similarly to when they had used the drug PCP, or angel dust, previously.
A report by Rolling Stone magazine in 2013 after Hernandez was arrested claimed he was a heavy user of angel dust (PCP), and had become so paranoid that he carried a gun wherever he went.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)