FALL RIVER, Mass. - New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft testified Tuesday that his former star tight end Aaron Hernandez told him he was innocent when asked if he was involved in a 2013 killing.
Kraft was called by the prosecution in Hernandez's murder trial over the June 17, 2013, slaying of Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee.
He at times seemed uncomfortable on the stand, even when he was asked where he worked. He first said 1 Patriot Place, the address of Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play. When asked what he did at work, he replied, "Whatever they ask me to do." Then, asked if he ran a business, he replied: "We're a packaging and paper business and private equity, and we have two sports teams." He first listed the New England Revolution soccer team, then the Patriots.
Kraft was asked about the events of June 19, two days after the killing. By then, Kraft said, there was a strong media presence at Gillette Stadium, including helicopters, which were covering the investigation.
Kraft said he found Hernandez in a weight room working out and pulled him into an adjacent office for a private talk.
"I understood there was an incident that had transpired, and I wanted to know whether he was involved, and if he was, any player that comes into our system, I consider part of our extended family, and I wanted to get him help," he said.
"What did he say?" prosecutor William McCauley asked.
"He said he was not involved. That he was innocent and that he hoped that the time of the murder incident came out because he said he was in a club," Kraft said.
Prosecutors have said Hernandez was at a bar earlier in the evening, then drove to Boston with two friends, picked up Lloyd and killed him in an industrial park.
Kraft said his conversation with Hernandez lasted five to 10 minutes.
Later, he saw him one last time at the stadium.
"He hugged and kissed me and thanked me for my concern," Kraft said.
Hernandez signed a $40 million contract with the Patriots in 2012, but as defence lawyer Michael Fee questioned him, Kraft said he couldn't remember whether it ran through the 2018 season.
"I don't get into the details. I just knew we signed him," he said, adding that Hernandez was signed because he was "a very good player."
Hernandez watched closely during Kraft's testimony, which lasted a little over 30 minutes.
Next to the stand was the Patriots' director of security, Mark Briggs. He said he also had a conversation with Hernandez on June 19.
"I asked him why he'd lawyered up," he said.
The judge struck the comment from the record and instructed the jury that citizens do not have any obligation to speak with police.
Briggs said Hernandez told him that he had been with Lloyd at a club and they went their separate ways, so Hernandez gave him keys to a vehicle. He told him those keys were found in Lloyd's pocket, Briggs said.
Investigators did find keys to an SUV Hernandez rented in Lloyd's pocket.
Briggs said he asked Hernandez if he was involved in Lloyd's killing, and Hernandez replied no. He said he then looked in his eyes and asked if he was telling the truth.
"He swore on his baby's life that he was telling the truth," Briggs said.
Briggs said the following day, Hernandez showed up at Gillette Stadium, and Briggs asked him to leave, which Hernandez did.
"You asked him to leave the stadium because his presence there was bad for business?" Fee asked.
"That is correct," Briggs replied.
Hernandez was arrested June 26 in Lloyd's slaying. Less than two hours later, he was cut from the team.
Also Tuesday, lawyers said they expect to wrap up their cases next week. McCauley named for the judge just a handful of additional witnesses to call and said he expected to rest Thursday. He did not name any other members of the Patriots organization or anyone affiliated with the NFL. That likely means that Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Miami Dolphins player Mike Pouncey and others listed as potential witnesses will not be called.
Hernandez lawyer James Sultan asked the judge to hear arguments on some pending issues Friday and said he expected to put on witnesses and finish Monday. Both sides will also deliver closing arguments, then deliberations will begin.