Updated at 1:15 p.m. with further Gainesville Police Department comment
As Aaron Hernandez passes time in the Bristol County (Mass.) jail, there were new developments concerning him: his name surfaced in connection with a 2007 shooting in Gainesville, Fla.; a witness investigators had planned to interview was killed in a car crash; and the Bristol County sheriff put to rest any notion that a jailhouse wedding to his fiancee might occur.
Law-enforcement authorities investigating the alleged involvement of the former New England Patriots tight end in a murder case have contacted Gainesville police about a 2007 shooting in which two men were wounded, ABC News and ESPN reported. On Monday, a report linked Hernandez to an unrelated 2007 fight in which a bouncer was injured in a Gainesville bar-restaurant.
A copy of the police report, obtained by “Outside the Lines,” shows that one man was shot in the head and another in the arm in the September 2007 incident. A third man was not wounded. At the time, Hernandez was a 17-year-old freshman at the University of Florida and Reggie Nelson, who now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, was also named in the report. From ESPN’s Kelli Naqi:
The two men and a friend of theirs had left a nightclub and were in their car stopped at a light blocks away when their vehicle was fired upon, according to the statements two of the men gave to police. Corey Smith, a 28-year-old at the time who was sitting in the front passenger seat, was shot in back of the head. Justin Glass, the 19-year-old driver, was shot in the arm. Randall Cason, sitting in the back seat behind Smith, was unharmed.
While several witnesses told police the shooter was a black male, Cason said there were two suspects.
Cason, then 20, told police that shooter was a “Hawaiian” or “Hispanic” male who had a large muscular build, stood about 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, weighed about 230 or 240 pounds and had a lot of tattoos. Cason said there was also a black male with the shooter, and Cason identified the black male as Reggie Nelson, a former Florida Gator who was a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Nelson, in an interview with the Gainesville police, said he had been at the nightclub earlier but denied he was even on the same street as the shooting.
“As they were waiting for the light to change, the Hawaiian football player and Reggie Nelson walked up to their car on the right side,” according to the police report, which cited what Cason told detectives. “Then without saying a work [sic], the Hawaiian pointed a small handgun in the front right window and fired five quick shots. Cason saw Smith slump over with blood coming out of the back of the head, at which time the Hawaiian and Nelson took off running towards McDonald’s.”
The police report says that Nelson and Hernandez had been in The Venue nightclub along with two other Gators players, Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, twin brothers who now both play in the NFL. After the shooting, investigators interviewed Cason at Shands Hospital. Cason is described as distraught and emotional, and an officer indicated Cason said several times “it should have been him that had been shot and not Cory [sic].” Cason told investigators that a week earlier his brother had gotten into an altercation with several Florida football players.
Nelson told investigators that he was at The Venue with several friends that night. He said he later saw Aaron Hernandez and the Pouncey twins, and Hernandez told him that one of the twins had his necklace snatched by Cason. After the club closed, Nelson said, one of the twins confirmed the story to him. Nelson said he went to speak to Cason, advised that he didn’t want any trouble and the two parted on good terms. He said he was not on West University Avenue, the street where the shooting took place, when Smith and Glass were shot.
Two days after the shooting, Gainesville police Lt. Keith Kameg was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying neither Hernandez nor Nelson were suspects. Police have also said that they briefly interviewed Hernandez about the shooting. But, according to the police report, Hernandez declined to speak to Gainesville police nine days after the shooting. Hernandez’s name is redacted from the report because he was 17 and considered a minor at the time. However, there is one reference to Hernandez in which his name is not redacted. In that section under “Aaron Hernandez,” the report says detectives attempted to speak to Hernandez on Oct. 9 but that “he invoked his right to counsel.”
This morning, the Gainesville Police Department issued a statement saying it “has not been contacted” by Massachusetts authorities or “by any other law enforcement agency about this incident. The Gainesville Police Department has not released any incident report concerning this case, due to it being an open criminal investigation. Any alleged reports currently circulating may or may not be accurate, since the Gainesville Police Department did not release any reports. The origin of these alleged reports is unknown.”
The police later amended that,saying that the report was released “inadvertently” after a public records request from ESPN was “fulfilled in error by a clerk.”
In other Hernandez-related developments, a man whom police were preparing to interview in connection with the Lloyd case and a 2012 double murder outside Boston was killed in a single-car crash early Sunday in Farmington, Conn., a town next to Hernandez’s hometown of Bristol. The Hartford Courant reported that Massachusetts authorities were interested in talking to Thaddeus Singleton III about his relationship with Hernandez, who was driving a car registered to his father-in-law, who is Hernandez’s uncle, when he was killed. The uncle’s home was searched recently by Bristol and Massachusetts investigators.
Hernandez remains in jail without bail and faces murder and gun-related charges for orchestrating what prosecutors contend was the “execution style” shooting death of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd on June 17. Hernandez has entered a not-guilty plea and will next appear in court July 24.
If there’s a plan, whether based in legal strategy or affection, for Hernandez to marry his fiancee, Shayanna jenkins, it isn’t likely to get past the man who holds the key to the jail, the Bristol sheriff.
“I don’t subscribe to that. I feel that those rights are things that you access on the outside, if you’re a good citizen,” Thomas Hodgson told USA Today. “We’ll do everything we can to not have that happen.”