(Adds Patriots press conference)
By Richard Valdmanis
ATTLEBORO, Mass., July 24 New England Patriots
Coach Bill Belichick said on Wednesday he was "shocked" when he
learned last month that player Aaron Hernandez was being
investigated for murder and noted the case revealed flaws with
the team's screening system.
Hernandez was cut from the National Football League team on
June 26, shortly after police arrested him on charges that he
orchestrated the execution-style murder of a friend,
semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd.
The former tight end has pleaded not guilty to six criminal
counts including murder and weapons charges tied to Lloyd's
death last month. Lloyd's body was found in an industrial area
not far from Hernandez' home.
His arrest is the latest setback for the NFL, which over the
years has struggled with a string of scandals involving players
from O.J. Simpson's murder trial in 1995 to dog fighting, injury
bounties, spying and gambling.
"I and the other members of the organization were shocked
and disappointed with what we have learned," Belichick told
reporters at the Patriots facility in Foxboro, Massachusetts, in
his first public comments on Hernandez since the arrest. "We
certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior and this does not
in any way represent the way that the New England Patriots want
to do things."
Belichick addressed the media at the same time that
Hernandez faced a judge in court in Attleboro, about 10 miles
(16 km) away from the Patriots complex. Hernandez appeared
dressed in a dark jacket and white dress shirt unbuttoned at the
neck, unlike the white T-shirt he wore the day of his arrest.
Judge Daniel O'Shea allowed the district attorney's request
to delay a probable cause hearing in the case - intended to
establish grounds for trial - until Aug. 22.
Prosecutors claim that Hernandez, accompanied by two
friends, shot Lloyd five times at an industrial park less than a
mile from Hernandez's North Attleborough home.
They said he had soured on Lloyd a few nights before the
killing after seeing Lloyd speaking to people at a nightclub
with whom Hernandez said he'd had trouble.
Members of Lloyd's family were present in the courtroom
wearing badges on their shirts bearing Lloyd's image, several of
them with tears in their eyes.
The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that prosecutors have
also begun presenting a case to a grand jury that Hernandez
should be charged in a double-murder on a Boston street last
July, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials.
The Globe report said investigators believe Hernandez killed
Lloyd because he was worried Lloyd had information about the
South End double homicide and might talk.
The Suffolk County prosecutor's office and Boston police
declined comment on the case on Wednesday.
The fall of a rising star athlete has transfixed Boston and
local TV stations carried Belichick's press conference and
Hernandez brief court appearance simultaneously, showing the
coach and his former player in split screen.
Belichick said the case was proof that there were flaws with
the team's rigorous screening process for its players, which
delves into family history, lifestyle, college experience,
intelligence and other factors.
"Obviously this process is far from perfect... and
unfortunately this most recent situation, with the charges that
are involved, is not a good one on that record," he said. "We'll
learn from this terrible experience that we've had, and we'll
become a better team form the lessons that we have learned."
(Additional reporting by Scott Malone and Frank Pingue; Editing
by Jeffrey Benkoe and Eric Walsh)