A judge on Tuesday scheduled a tentative May trial date for former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men, and his lawyers asked a judge to issue a gag order because of intense media coverage of the murder case.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado after a random nightclub encounter in Boston.
During a hearing in Suffolk Superior Court, Hernandez's lawyers asked Judge Jeffrey Locke to issue a gag order prohibiting anyone involved in the case from commenting outside court.
Attorney James Sultan said the defence is concerned that Hernandez can't get a fair trial because of extensive media coverage of his indictment in the double slayings and another murder case against Hernandez in the 2013 death of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. Lloyd's body was found in an industrial park near Hernandez's North Attleborough home.
"I think it's incumbent upon all of us ... to do whatever we can to safeguard Mr. Hernandez's constitutional right to a fair trial and a jury that has not been poisoned by unfairly prejudicial pretrial publicity," Sultan said. He argued that a judge in Bristol County, where Hernandez is charged with killing Lloyd, issued a gag order in that case.
Prosecutors opposed the request. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan called a gag order "unreasonable" and "unwarranted," and said it not the usual practice in Suffolk County.
Haggan said Hernandez's lawyers were suggesting that "because of his celebrity and his public figure status that Mr. Hernandez should not be held to the rules of this court."
Haggan said prosecutors involved in the Hernandez case had not made any improper statements outside court. Sultan disagreed, saying District Attorney Dan Conley had "held a press conference" after the indictments against Hernandez were issued and again after he was arraigned.
The judge took the request under advisement and did not indicate when he would rule.
Family members and friends of the two men filled the front two rows of the courtroom. Several relatives wept as Hernandez was brought into the room. Two women left the courtroom as Hernandez talked and laughed with one of his lawyers just before the hearing began.
Locke made it clear that the May 28 trial date is only tentative. He acknowledged that the date could change because Hernandez's trial in Lloyd's killing is scheduled for October.
Hernandez's lawyers told the judge they don't plan to file any motions in the 2012 double slaying case until after the trial in the Lloyd case is over.
But Locke warned them, "Don't consider this case suspended until October."
Hernandez is due back in court on Aug. 14.