By Daniel Lovering
FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) - Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez is due in court on Friday for the first of two murder trials he faces this year, this one for the fatal shooting of an acquaintance near his home in southern Massachusetts.
Hernandez, 25, is charged with summoning Odin Lloyd to his home late one night in June 2013 and taking him on a drive to an industrial park in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, where prosecutors contend he shot and killed the semi-professional football player.
The former tight end, who had a $41 million contract at the time he was arrested and dropped by the Patriots, has since been charged with two more homicides, men that prosecutors contend Hernandez shot dead outside a Boston nightclub in 2012 after a dispute over a spilled drink.
Jury selection will begin on Friday in his trial on charges of murdering Lloyd, with Massachusetts Superior Court Associate Justice Susan Garsh summoning more than 1,000 people to the courthouse in Fall River over three days.
While Hernandez also faces a variety of firearms charges, investigators have not located the weapon used to kill Lloyd. They do have video of a car rented by Hernandez arriving at the site where Lloyd's body was found, departing and later arriving at Hernandez' home.
Prosecutors contend that Lloyd had hung out at a nightclub with some people that Hernandez did not like. In a hearing last month, Garsh also blocked prosecutors' efforts to introduce Lloyd's final text messages to his sister, sent while prosecutors contend he was in a car with Hernandez riding to his death, saying there was no proof that the messages showed Lloyd believed himself to be in danger.
Garsh also ruled the jury hearing the Lloyd case will not be told about the Boston killings. In that case, prosecutors contend that Hernandez flew into a rage over a spilled drink and tailed two strangers, Cape Verdean nationals Daniel Abreu and Safirdo Furtado, killing them outside a nightclub.
Hernandez's roster of high-powered Boston attorneys, including James Sultan and Michael Fee, have helped him win those key early procedural victories, said Boston College law professor Robert Bloom.
"The prosecution has a tremendous amount of resources and it's very rare that a criminal defendant can match those resources," Bloom said. "There's a great deal of circumstantial evidence."
Prosecutors also will be headed into the trial under the leadership of a new district attorney, Thomas Quinn, who was named to the post on an acting basis last week after predecessor Sam Sutter was elected mayor of Fall River.
Quinn, a 16-year veteran of the Bristol County District Attorney's office, said the change at the top will not affect trial strategy.
"Continuity in this case is very important and I'll be able to maintain that continuity," Quinn told reporters this week. "It's as if nothing has changed."
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to all three killings. Two of his friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, have pleaded not guilty to charges tied to Lloyd's killing.
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott)