FALL RIVER — A key figure in the murder case against former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez has changed his account of the final moments leading up to the fatal shooting of a Dorchester man near Hernandez’s North Attleborough home, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Carlos Ortiz, 27, who faces a weapons charge, had previously told authorities that Hernandez and Ernest Wallace, 41, got out of a rental vehicle with the victim, Odin Lloyd, in an industrial park, where Lloyd was shot multiple times. Ortiz claims that he remained inside the car.But now, Ortiz “does not think” Wallace exited the vehicle with Hernandez and Lloyd, prosecutor Patrick Bomberg said during a bail hearing in Bristol Superior Court for Wallace, who is being charged as an accessory after the fact of the killing.
Ortiz’s new claim, if true, would indicate that only Hernandez accompanied Lloyd to the site where he was shot and killed.
Bomberg did not say why he mentioned the change in Ortiz’s story, and District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter addressed the matter only briefly outside court. Sutter said he does not believe the altered story weakens the case against Hernandez, 23, who is charged with the June 17 murder.
“Not at all,” Sutter said.
David Meier, a lawyer for Wallace, said during the hearing that state troopers in Connecticut aggressively questioned Ortiz several days after the murder when Ortiz reported to a meeting with his probation officer. During that questioning, Meier said, Ortiz admitted that surveillance footage captured him wearing a white towel around his neck before Lloyd was killed.
Investigators then informed Ortiz that the first person to approach Lloyd’s body in the industrial park after the shooting left a white towel nearby, Meier said.
During Thursday’s hearing, which Wallace appeared at, a judge granted prosecutors’ request that his bail should remain set at $500,000 cash. Meier had requested that it be reduced to $10,000.
Bomberg, repeating a phrase previously used by prosecutors, said Wallace has acted as Hernandez’s “right-hand man.” He also said Wallace does not have job or a permanent home.
Wallace has a lengthy criminal record in four states that includes charges of giving a false name to police and at least one failure to appear in court, Bomberg said. He also noted that Wallace, who has used four aliases, traveled to Florida shortly after the murder.
He said Wallace has been a frequent guest at Hernandez’s home, and that maids working for the athlete reported seeing a firearm under the mattress that Wallace slept on, as well as other guns in the house.
Bomberg said Wallace’s cellphone was used during the exchange of the last several messages between Hernandez and Lloyd before Lloyd was picked up at his home early on the morning of his death.
And, Bomberg said, a .22 caliber weapon purchased in Florida, where Wallace has family ties, was found in an area between the murder scene and Hernandez’s home.
Authorities believe Lloyd was shot with a .45 caliber gun; the murder weapon has not been recovered.
In addition, Wallace and Hernandez were in contact by phone after the murder, including a call that Hernandez “immediately” placed to him when police first arrived at the athlete’s residence, Bomberg said.
Meier countered that his client regularly travels between Connecticut, where he has cared for two of Hernandez’s cancer-stricken relatives, and Miramar, Fla., where his parents own a home.
He said that even though his client is charged as an accessory after the fact, there has been no allegation that he committed acts typical of that offense, such as driving a getaway car, helping to hide evidence or a suspect, disposing of robbery proceeds, or helping a suspect flee.
Prosecutors say that Wallace drove Ortiz to Bristol, Conn. after the killing in a second vehicle that Hernandez rented, and that he later abandoned the car.
Meier asked, “What are the acts, what is it that the Commonwealth genuinely ... alleges that Mr. Wallace did?”
He also questioned whether there was convincing evidence that Hernandez committed the murder, and said Wallace has “every incentive” to appear in court for future hearings.
The case against Hernandez includes cellphone records and video surveillance footage that, prosecutors say, shows Hernandez summoning Wallace to Massachusetts on the night of June 16, Lloyd getting into a vehicle carrying the suspects early on June 17, and the vehicle pulling into the industrial park where Lloyd was fatally shot.
Authorities say that video surveillance footage from Hernandez’s home security system shows him carrying a handgun shortly after the killing.
Wallace is due back in court for a pretrial hearing on Nov. 8.