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The murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez began Friday with the judge telling the first batch of prospective jurors that they could still be chosen to sit on the panel even if they had heard about the high-profile case.
Hundreds of jurors were expected to file through the halls of the Fall River Justice Center on the first day of the selection process. Hernandez, 25, is charged with killing Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old semiprofessional football player from Boston who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee. At the time of the killing June 17, 2013, Hernandez had a $40 million contract with the Patriots.
The court was strictly enforcing a special rule imposed by the judge for the duration of the trial, which bans from the courthouse logos for the Patriots, NFL or any football-related insignia, or words or photographs relating to the case. One man wearing a Boston Bruins jersey and waiting in a security line near potential jurors yelled out, "Go Pats!" and was kicked out of the courthouse.
The court planned to bring in prospective jurors in three groups of 125 per day Friday, Monday and Tuesday to fill out questionnaires. More than 1,000 people are expected to report as prosecutors and defense lawyers haggle over whom to seat on the jury.
During the first court session Friday, Hernandez greeted the jurors with "good morning" when he was introduced to them by Bristol County Superior Judge Susan Garsh, then sat impassively and looked around the room as Garsh described the charges against him.
"I want to stress that the charges in the indictment are merely allegations - claims if you will," Garsh said. The indictment, she said, "is not evidence of anything."
Acting District Attorney Thomas Quinn made a short statement to the media outside court but would not answer questions.
"We look forward to a jury being selected that is fair and impartial to both sides," he said.
Hernandez's lawyers would not comment as they brought in several items, including a mini refrigerator, a coffeemaker, Ritz crackers and coat hangers.
Prosecutors say Hernandez and two other men, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, picked Lloyd up at his home in Boston's Dorchester section and took him to an industrial park near Hernandez's home in North Attleborough, where he was shot to death. Prosecutors haven't said who pulled the trigger but said Hernandez orchestrated the killing. Ortiz and Wallace have pleaded not guilty to murder charges and will be tried separately.
The trial, expected to last six to 10 weeks, will not be the end of Hernandez's legal troubles. He faces separate murder charges in Boston, where he is accused of killing two men after one of them accidentally spilled a drink on him at a nightclub in 2012. The trial date has not yet been set.
In the Lloyd case, Garsh told jurors not to discuss their service or the case with anyone. She told them that even if they had heard about the case, they may still be chosen to sit on the jury.
Starting next Thursday, jurors will be told whether to report for the second phase of the trial, Garsh said. The judge will then conduct individual questioning of jurors. Eighteen jurors will be selected. The entire process is expected to last through next week, if not longer.
Nearly 300 people are on the prosecution's list of potential witnesses, including Patriots coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft.
Among the others listed as potential witnesses is Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. Prosecutors have said Jenkins lied dozens of times to the grand jury investigating Lloyd's killing, including when she said she couldn't remember where she disposed of a large box from the basement of their home that Hernandez apparently told her to get rid of. She had been granted immunity before her grand jury testimony.
This week, prosecutors petitioned the judge to grant Jenkins immunity for the trial. It was not yet clear whether the judge had approved that.
Neither Jenkins nor any other Hernandez family members were seen in court Friday.
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