By Scott Malone and Daniel Lovering
FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) - Opening statements are set for Thursday in the first murder trial facing former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez this year, when Massachusetts prosecutors will seek to prove he fatally shot a semi-professional football player in 2013.
Hernandez, 25, was a rising star in the National Football League with a $41 million contract when he was arrested in June 2013 and charged with the execution-style killing of acquaintance Odin Lloyd near his North Attleborough, Massachusetts, home in June 2013.
The Patriots, who face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday, cut Hernandez hours after his arrest. The former tight end will face a second trial later this year in Boston over the fatal shooting of two Cape Verdean nationals outside a Boston nightclub in 2012, after a dispute over a spilled drink.
Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty to all three killings, will be tried at Fall River Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts, in a trial expected to last six to 10 weeks.
Associate Justice Susan Garsh on Monday finished selecting the jury that will hear the case, but delayed opening statements by two days because of a blizzard that dropped about 2 feet (60 cm) of snow across much of eastern Massachusetts.
Lloyd, 27, had been dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. Prosecutors contend that he and Hernandez argued after Lloyd socialized at a nightclub with people Hernandez disliked.
Hernandez faces firearms charges in addition to the murder count.
Prosecutors will face some challenges during the trial, including the fact that investigators have not recovered the gun used in the shooting at an industrial park.
They also lost a few legal battles late last year, when Garsh ruled the jury would not hear of the last text messages Lloyd sent to his sister before his death, which included: "Did you see who I'm with," "NFL" and "just so you know."
The jury will also not hear about an allegation made in a civil suit by a former friend of Hernandez, Alexander Bradley, that Hernandez shot him in the face and wounded him following a dispute in Florida in February 2013.
Two of Hernandez's friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, were also charged in connection with Lloyd's slaying and will be tried separately. They have also pleaded not guilty.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney)