Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez appeared in court today to hear his attorneys argue that media coverage of the case has potentially "poisoned" the jury pool before the ex-NFL player's upcoming murder trial.
Hernandez, 23, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the execution-style slaying of his friend, semipro football player Odin Lloyd, 27. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail in a Bristol County, Mass., lockup since his arrest in June.
The former NFL standout sat at the defense table today in a black suit, his handcuffs removed, as defense attorney Michael Fee argued that prosecutors have leaked prejudicial stories that could impede his right to a fair trial.
In court papers, Fee argued that the Bristol County District Attorney's office investigators orchestrated a "publicity stunt" when Dolphins center Mike Pouncey was served with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 27, less than an hour after the Patriots defeated Miami.
Fee cited a Sports Illustrated report in October that suggested Pouncey, a close friend and former teammate of Hernandez, was subpoenaed in connection with a gun-trafficking investigation and said that it was leaked in violation of a gag order implemented in the case since Hernandez's arraignment.
Pouncey and Hernandez were both questioned in connection with 2007 shooting in Gainsville, Fla., though neither was charged, according to police documents obtained by ABC News.
"He is entitled to a fair trial, he is entitled to a jury panel that has not been poisoned," Fee argued in front of Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh.
Prosecutors not only denied that its investigators were the source but added that the story was inaccurate.
"It's simply not true,'' Bristol County District Attorney William McCauley told the court. "There is no strategy in giving false information to reporters."
Pouncey was served with a subpoena, but it was not connected to a gun-trafficking investigation, McCauley told the court.
Hernandez's mother and fianceé Shayana Jenkins were among the spectators at the Fall River Justice Center. As lawyers for both the government and the former NFL player argued, Hernandez turned around and mouthed "I love you" to his mother, who wiped at tears as Jenkins rubbed her back.
Jenkins is also facing criminal charges in the Lloyd case. She was released on personal recognizance after pleading not guilty to perjury charges. Prosecutors said Jenkins lied to the grand jury more than a dozen times about weapons recovered in the home she shared with Hernandez and their toddler daughter.
After his arrest in June, the Patriots released Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Two Hernandez associates charged as accessories in the murder case, Ernest Wallace, 41, and Carlos Ortiz, 27, have also pleaded not guilty.
Lloyd's family and friends has attended every hearing connected to the case wearing buttons emblazoned with the slain victim's face. Lloyd's mother was escorted from the courtroom today crying after she spotted a row of Hernandez supporters -- some wearing Patriots jerseys with his old number 81. They were sporting identical buttons -- with a picture of the former Patriots player.
Garsh ruled that she wanted more arguments on the gag order from both sides before Hernandez's next expected court appearance on Feb. 5. When the proceeding was over, the Hernandez supporters gave his mother and Jenkins pins of their own.
Before being led out in handcuffs, Hernandez again mouthed "I love you" to the women. His mother responded "Merry Christmas."
Outside the court, when asked whether she was upset that Hernandez would not be home for Christmas, she nodded vigorously and began to cry.
But Hernandez's legal problems may only be mounting, law enforcement officials said.
Investigators have called Hernandez a suspect in an unsolved July 2012 triple shooting in Boston's South End that left two men dead and the third wounded. Investigators are currently presenting evidence to a Suffolk County grand jury in connection with that shooting, according to testimony in open court.
Hernandez and his attorneys have not commented on those allegations.
A Massachusetts judge last week put a lien on the Hernandez home, estimated at $1.25 million, after a wrongful death civil lawsuit was filed against him by the family of Odin Lloyd. The suit alleges that Hernandez "maliciously, willfully, wantonly, recklessly or by gross negligence caused Odin Lloyd to suffer personal injuries." That suit seeks unspecified damages.