Patriots’ owner: Aaron Hernandez told me he was innocent

Posted at 12:11 PM, Mar 31, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-31 12:11:08-04

(CNN) — Two days after Odin Lloyd was found dead, New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez looked into the eyes of team owner Robert Kraft and said he was innocent, Kraft testified Tuesday in Hernandez’s murder trial.

Kraft, answering questions from a prosecutor and one of Hernandez’s attorneys on the witness stand in a Massachusetts courtroom, recalled a private conversation that he had with the star Patriots tight end on June 19, at the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, as news spread that Hernandez was being investigated in Lloyd’s death.

“He said he was not involved,” Kraft testified in the courtroom in Fall River. “He said he was innocent.”

Hernandez has been charged with murder and has pleaded not guilty to orchestrating the death of Lloyd, a semipro football player who was found dead in Massachusetts on June 17, 2013.

Hernandez also has pleaded not guilty to a gun and ammunition charge. His co-defendants, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, also pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.

Kraft testified that he asked to speak with Hernandez in an office near a weight room in the stadium, and asked the player to look him in the eye and tell him if he was involved in Lloyd’s death.

According to Kraft, Hernandez told him during that meeting that he hoped the time of Lloyd’s death “came out,” because Hernandez had been at a club that night.

According to testimony from Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, the player had not been at a club but was at dinner with her and some friends before the shooting.

Mel Robbins, a CNN legal analyst, called Kraft’s testimony “explosive.”

“What a great, great witness for the prosecution,” she said. “Basically what happened is Aaron Hernandez lied to his boss and the only way you rebut it is if you put him on the stand.”

How did Hernandez know when the murder happened, Robbins asked, unless he was there?

The Patriots’ owner also testified, when asked by a defense attorney, that he’d never had any problems with Hernandez, and that the player was always respectful to him.

The billionaire magnate of The Kraft Group, a company with interests ranging from paper and packaging concerns to sports and entertainment, said Hernandez always greeted him with a hug and kiss.

Asked by the defense why Hernandez was signed to a $40 million long-term contract, Kraft said simply: “He’s a very good player.”

Outside court, surrounded by cameras, Kraft expressed sadness over Lloyd’s death.

“A man died,” he said. “This is about a man being killed. It’s unfortunate.”

Hernandez was arrested in connection with Lloyd’s death a week after that meeting with Kraft. The Patriots released Hernandez less than two hours after the arrest on June 26, 2013.

Jenkins, 25, and Hernandez are the parents of a young daughter. Jenkins’ sister Shaneah was dating Lloyd, 27, who was shot six times, according to prosecutors.

The trial began in late January.