Foxborough, Mass. – A grim-faced coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday the New England Patriots will learn from the “terrible experience” of Aaron Hernandez’s arrest on a murder charge and work to improve their player evaluation process.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the tight end was arrested four weeks earlier, Belichick said he was “shocked and disappointed” to learn of the criminal investigation while he was out of the United States.
He also sought to minimize future attention on the case.
“I’m not trying to make this story disappear, but I respect the judicial process and have been advised not to comment on ongoing legal proceedings,” Belichick said. “I’m advising our players to do the same things.
“… I’ve been advised to address the subject once, and it’s time for the New England Patriots to move forward. Moving forward consists of what it’s always been here — to build a winning football team, to be a strong pillar in the community and be a team that our fans can be proud of.”
The Patriots cut Hernandez after he was arrested the morning of June 26 and before he was charged that afternoon. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty.
Players are scheduled to report to training camp Thursday, and quarterback Tom Brady and the five other captains from last season will be available to reporters. The first practice is scheduled for Friday.
Belichick opened his 22-minute news conference by speaking from prepared notes.
He expressed sympathy for the family of shooting victim Odin Lloyd, said the team’s in-depth process of studying a player’s background is “far from perfect” but wouldn’t be overhauled, and took responsibility for bringing people to the team.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and I extend my sympathy really to everyone who has been impacted,” said Belichick, who became New England’s coach in 2000. “A young man lost his life. His family has suffered a tragic loss and there’s no way to (overrstate) that.
“We’ll try to do a good job in bringing people into this organization in the future and try to learn from the mistakes that we’ve made along the way, of which there have been plenty.”
At about the same time as Belichick was speaking, Hernandez was in court in Attleboro, Mass., for what was supposed to be a probable cause hearing, but prosecutors said a grand jury is still considering the evidence against him.
Judge Daniel O’Shea considered defense objections to a delay but decided to reschedule the hearing for Aug. 22. Hernandez will continue to be held without bail until then.
O’Shea also ruled in favor of media organizations that were seeking access to more documents in the case, including two arrest warrants, additional search warrants and other materials. The records will be released at 3 p.m. (EDT) Thursday barring appeals.
With Hernandez, Belichick said, the team “acted swiftly and decisively” to cut him.
“Having someone in your organization that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing,” Belichick said.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has said he was “duped” by Hernandez. When Belichick was asked if he also had been “duped,” he said he couldn’t comment.
“We stress high character and we stress making good decisions,” Belichick said. “We’ll learn from this terrible experience that we’ve had.
“We’ll become a better team from the lessons that we’ve learned.”