(Adds Patriots press conference)
By Richard Valdmanis
ATTLEBORO, Mass., July 24 (Reuters) - 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)