FALL RIVER, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge said on Monday she would consider a request by lawyers defending former National Football League star Aaron Hernandez that she issue a gag order preventing leaks about the high-profile murder case.
Judge Susan Garsh asked attorneys to submit proposed media guidelines after an attorney for Hernandez complained about “prejudicial” reports that had surfaced in the press quoting unnamed law enforcement officials.
Hernandez, 24, was charged in the fatal shooting of his friend, Odin Lloyd, in an industrial area near his home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.
The former New England Patriots tight end, who had a $41 million contract when he was arrested, pleaded not guilty to murder and weapons-related charges and is being held in Bristol County Jail while awaiting trial. A handcuffed Hernandez was led into the Fall River Superior Court hearing on Monday.
Prosecutors denied the accusation that law enforcement officials were guilty of leaking information about the case to the press.
“Their suggestion that we have moles out there leaking information is factually not true,” Assistant District Attorney William McCauley said. “We are playing fair.”
The arguments came after the judge declined to issue a gag order in October prohibiting lawyers involved in the case from speaking about it publicly.
But she reminded prosecutors and defense attorneys at the time that Massachusetts trial rules still placed significant limits on their public statements about an ongoing criminal proceeding.
Prosecutors say Hernandez summoned Lloyd to his home and drove him, along with friends Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, to the isolated area where Hernandez shot Lloyd five times.
The two men had argued at a nightclub a few nights before the shooting because Lloyd, 27, had been speaking with people Hernandez disliked, prosecutors say.
Hernandez’s attorneys have said the case against him is weak and circumstantial. Investigators have not presented the gun Hernandez is alleged to have used in the killing.
Last week, Lloyd’s mother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Hernandez that seeks to block a payment of more than $3.25 million his former NFL union contends he is owed. A judge put a hold on his $1.26 million mansion while the suit is pending.
Garsh scheduled a hearing on the gag order for February 5, 2014.
(Editing by Edith Honan, Bernadette Baum and Andrew Hay)
This Dec. 23 story was refiled to add dropped word in the fourth paragraph.