What's next for former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, who now faces charges in three murders after Thursday's indictment in a July 16, 2012, slaying of two Boston men?
Suffolk County (Mass.) District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said a grand jury returned indictments on two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.
Conley identified Hernandez as "the principal, the shooter, the person responsible for taking the two lives." Hernandez, 24, could be arraigned as early as next week in Boston.
He is in jail awaiting trial on a separate first-degree murder charge — the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, whose bullet-ridden body was found June 17 near Hernandez's North Attleborough, Mass. home.
The Lloyd case is expected to proceed to trial first.
"The other case will get to fruition sooner than this one," Suffolk University law professor Chris Dearborn, a former defense attorney and public defender, told USA TODAY Sports. "Two separate murder cases. My only advice to the general public and a potential jury pool is don't prejudge.
"The arraignment will be huge — are there smoking guns in this case, or do they just have a lot of circumstantial evidence?"
Conley said de Abreu and Furtado were gunned down as they sat in a car at a traffic light in Boston's South End after a chance encounter with Hernandez inside a nightclub. Hernandez followed behind in an SUV, then pulled up along the passenger's side of the victims' car and fired a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver multiple times.
"For us, this case was not about Aaron Hernandez," Conley said. "This case was about two victims, who were stalked, ambushed and senselessly murdered on the streets of the city they called home."
Conley said investigators recovered the murder weapon and the car Hernandez was driving.
Hernandez's counsel, Charles W. Rankin and James L. Sultan, released a statement in his defense.
"It is one thing to make allegations at a press conference and another to prove them in a court of law. Unlike the district attorney, we are not going to try this case in the media. Under our system of justice, Aaron Hernandez is innocent of these charges, and he looks forward to his day in court."
Conley had no comment when asked if there was a connection between the double murder and the Odin slaying.
"In theory, this allows them to have some information to be put in the Odin Lloyd murder case as a motive," Dearborn said. "Because obviously, they've tried to connect the dots between the two cases all along. What I found interesting is they aren't very specific about the connection between the car and the weapon.
"With the Odin Lloyd case, we saw how the case started to unravel; witnesses they were going to use weren't good; everything was circumstantial," Dearborn added. "Until we see exactly what they actually have through the documents, I am cynically speculating that it is going to be circumstantial."
Dearborn said there is risk of prejudicing the Lloyd trial if the cases are not presented independent of each other.
"The general rule in criminal cases is that prior bad acts can't come into evidence," Dearborn said. "Because what you don't want somebody to do is make a decision based on some other incident. You want them to judge what happened on a given day in and of itself.
"So the DA's office in Bristol County is going to try to get in this information as being relative to motive in the Odin Lloyd case. And what you don't want to have happen is someone tell a potential juror, 'Hey, maybe he did this one. What a coincidence that he maybe did two different killings. So he must be guilty of everything, right?'
"That is why the law is very direct on the introduction of what they call misconduct or prior bad actions."
A month after the 2012 alleged murders, Hernandez signed a $40 million contract, played in 10 games, catching 51 passes with five touchdowns.