A friend of former New England Patriots star tight end Aaron Hernandez pleaded guilty on Monday to accessory after the fact for helping the NFL player after he shot a man to death in 2013.
Hernandez was convicted in Massachusetts last year for the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiance's sister. He is serving life without the possibility of parole, although has said he intends to appeal.
The reason for the killing remains unclear. At the time, Hernandez had a $40 million contract with the Patriots.
Carlos Ortiz, 30, of Bristol, Connecticut, changed his plea to guilty on Monday in Bristol County Superior Court in Massachusetts as part of a deal with prosecutors, who dropped murder charges against him. He was sentenced to 4 1/2 to 7 years in prison.
Ortiz and Ernest Wallace were with Hernandez the night of Lloyd's death. Prosecutors used surveillance video and other evidence to show that the three men traveled to Boston together, picked up Lloyd, and then brought him to a deserted industrial park near Hernandez's home. He was found shot to death at the park hours later.
Both Ortiz and Wallace were initially charged with accessory after the fact and later charged with murder. Wallace was tried earlier this year and convicted of the accessory charge, but found not guilty of murder. He also was sentenced to 4 1/2 to 7 years in prison.
During Monday's hearing, Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh led Ortiz through a series of questions asking whether he understood the changes and understood the consequences of a guilty plea.
She explained that prosecutors would have had to prove that Ortiz knew Hernandez killed Lloyd, and she asked him how he knew that.
"When we got to the spot, the only two people that got out of the car was Aaron Hernandez and Odin Lloyd," Ortiz told her. He said when he heard the gunshot, he turned around to look.
"The only one person that came in was Aaron Hernandez," he said.
Later, Ortiz began to cry as he listened to Lloyd's mother speak about how much she missed her son.
"My heart aches, for three years of not hearing my son's voice, not seeing his smiling face," Ursula Ward said.
The plea brings an end to the criminal case in Lloyd's killing, but Hernandez's legal woes are not over. He has pleaded not guilty to a 2012 double murder in Boston, and is also facing multiple civil lawsuits.