ATTLEBORO, Mass -- An agitated and armed Aaron Hernandez complained that he could not trust anyone. Calling from his suburban home, Mr. Hernandez, a tight end for the New England Patriots, summoned two accomplices from out of state, and together they embarked on a middle-of-the-night, 45-minute drive to Boston to pick up his friend Odin Lloyd, who, prosecutors said, had angered Mr. Hernandez for talking to the wrong people during a long visit to a nightclub two nights earlier.
Their trip in the early hours of June 17 included a stop at a gas station to buy, among other things, blue bubble gum that would factor into the murder investigation.
Within hours, Lloyd was dead, shot five times and left in an industrial park less than a mile from Mr. Hernandez's home.
These accounts were laid out Wednesday by prosecutors in Attleboro District Court, where Mr. Hernandez was charged with murder and five gun-related offenses. He is believed to be the third NFL player charged with murder while active, and he was, until Wednesday morning, a member of the league's most celebrated team over the past decade.
But about an hour after Mr. Hernandez, 23, was arrested Wednesday morning -- and before he was arraigned on murder charges -- the Patriots released him, calling it "the right thing to do." Less than a year ago, the Patriots had signed him to a $40 million contract extension.
In court Wednesday, Mr. Hernandez, who pleaded not guilty and was held without bail, showed no emotion as the charges against him were read. He rarely looked at the packed rows of seating in the courtroom and did not seem to notice when there was a commotion as members of Lloyd's family were escorted from the court crying.
One of Mr. Hernandez's lawyers, Michael K. Fee, called the district attorney's case against his client, "at bottom, a circumstantial case; it is not a strong case."
Mr. Hernandez, dressed in the same white T-shirt and red athletic shorts he was wearing when he was arrested at his elegant home Wednesday morning, was led away in handcuffs, pausing briefly to wipe sweat from above his eyebrow. He was ordered to appear in court again July 24 for a probable cause hearing. On the murder charge, he faces a life sentence without parole.
The June 17 killing of Lloyd, according to prosecutor William McCauley, was a protracted drama, and it included Lloyd apparently growing nervous about Mr. Hernandez's intentions as he sat in his friend's car. In his final moments alive, Lloyd texted his sister to alert her. When she asked who he was with, he answered, "NFL," and added, "Just so you know."
The murder was gruesome, prosecutors said, as Lloyd, a semipro football player, was shot multiple times -- the two final shots fired by someone standing directly above him. Mr. Hernandez, prosecutors said, felt betrayed that Lloyd, who had been dating his fiancee's sister, had talked to some people Mr. Hernandez "had troubles with" when the two men were out together June 14.
Piecing together cellphone tower tracking, text messages and surveillance tapes -- including video obtained by 14 cameras trained on the outside and inside of Mr. Hernandez's home -- police constructed a timeline and concluded, in the words of Mr. McCauley, that Mr. Hernandez "orchestrated the execution" of Lloyd, 27.
Prosecutors said home surveillance videos taken from Mr. Hernandez's house show him in possession of firearms before and after Lloyd was killed, that Mr. Hernandez was observed picking up Lloyd at 2:30 a.m. the night he was killed, that a silver Nissan Altima -- the same vehicle make Mr. Hernandez had rented -- was seen going to and coming from the site where Lloyd's body was found, and that Mr. Hernandez was seen exiting his vehicle with a gun at his home at 3:29 a.m., shortly after authorities say Lloyd had been murdered.
Prosecutors added that .45-caliber shell casings found at the scene matched shell casings found in Mr. Hernandez's rental car.
Investigators did not say who fired the shots at Lloyd, and they did not identify the two other people who were with Mr. Hernandez or say whether they were under arrest.
First Published June 26, 2013 3:00 PM