BOSTON -- Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez ambushed and gunned down two men after a chance encounter inside a nightclub nearly two years ago, prosecutors said Thursday in an indictment that places the gun in his hands weeks before he signed a five-year, $40 million contract and went on to catch 51 passes and score five touchdowns during the 2012 NFL season.
Hernandez was already jailed in connection with a man's 2013 shooting death and was indicted anew on two counts of first-degree murder and other charges in connection with the July 2012 killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. A third man was wounded in that attack.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in the killing last year of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, whose body was found in an industrial area near Hernandez's home in North Attleborough. He was released by the Patriots last summer after being arrested in Lloyd's death, and his attorneys said he looks forward to proving his innocence of the new charges.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley would not say whether prosecutors suspected a link between the two cases beyond their accusations of Hernandez's involvement.
According to Conley, the night of the 2012 shootings unfolded when Hernandez and an associate went into the Cure Lounge in Boston at about the same time as the other men. The prosecutor would not describe their encounter but said there was no evidence Hernandez knew the victims.
After the men left, Hernandez followed in an SUV and pulled up alongside them as they were stopped at a red light in Boston's South End, Conley said.
"Aaron Hernandez fired a .38-caliber revolver multiple times from the driver's side of his vehicle into the passenger's side of the victim's vehicle," killing de Abreu and Furtado, Conley said.
The case remained unsolved for months, but following Lloyd's killing, Conley said, the SUV was found in Bristol, Connecticut, where Hernandez grew up, and the gun used in the double shooting was recovered from a person with ties to Hernandez. Previous court documents said the vehicle was found at the home of Hernandez's uncle.
A grand jury heard testimony from more than 24 witnesses and examined more than 80 pieces of evidence before returning the indictments, Conley said. He said Hernandez's notoriety played no role in the investigation.
"This was never about Aaron Hernandez," he said. "This case was about two victims who were stopped, ambushed and senselessly murdered on the streets they called home."
Hernandez is looking forward to his day in court, said his attorneys, Charles Rankin and James Sultan.
"It is one thing to make allegations at a press conference and another thing to prove them in a courtroom," they said in a statement.
The Patriots had no comment.
De Abreu and Furtado were close friends who attended school and served in the military together in Cape Verde before coming to the United States, said attorney William Kennedy, who represents their families in a $6 million civil lawsuit against Hernandez.
"They were two young men who had come to this country to make a better life for themselves ... and they were cut down in really the prime of their life," he said.
Hernandez's cousin Tanya Singleton was charged with criminal contempt of court. She was given immunity to testify before the grand jury but refused, Conley said.
Singleton's attorney, E. Peter Parker, called her prosecution "aggressive and unnecessary." He said Singleton, who is being treated for breast cancer, has suffered a number of health setbacks since being jailed more than six months ago.
Hernandez was expected to be arraigned on the new charges in Suffolk Superior Court next week. He is expected to be tried first in the Lloyd case.
His lawyers filed a motion Thursday to dismiss the first-degree murder indictment against him in the Lloyd slaying, saying prosecutors hadn't shown enough evidence to support it.
Also Thursday, a man described by prosecutors as Hernandez's "right-hand man," Ernest Wallace, pleaded not guilty to murder and accessory charges in Lloyd's death.