Is Mike Pouncey simply a witness in the mushrooming Aaron Hernandez case? Is he a person of interest and possible suspect?
Or is he somewhere in between, with his true designation unclear until he appears before a Massachusetts grand jury?
There were far more questions than answers Monday, a day after the Dolphins’ star center was served with grand jury subpoena papers outside the team’s locker room in Foxborough, Mass.
Meanwhile, in South Florida on Monday, there was actual consensus on two related matters:
Boston law enforcement could have handled things in the bowels of Gillette Stadium quite differently Sunday, and Joe Philbin wanted nothing to do with Pouncey questions at his day-after-loss news conference.
Philbin was asked about the Pouncey situation seven different ways during an eight-minute briefing — including once on whether he still supports the player. And each time, he gave a variation of the same answer:
“We are obviously aware of the reports regarding Mike,” Philbin said. “Consistent with my responses to non-football related matters, I have nothing further to say.”
James DeMiles, a South Florida-based criminal defense attorney originally from Boston, doesn’t blame the Dolphins for erring on the side of caution. There’s a good chance they’re as in the dark as everyone else.
If Philbin gave a full-throated defense of Pouncey, only to see his player charged a few months later, “I think the PR hit could be really bad,” DeMiles said.
But no matter how much Philbin tried to ignore the 800-pound elephant in his team’s training complex Monday, it was there nonetheless. Dozens of reporters, both local and national, were on the grounds following up on Sunday’s bombshell.
Pouncey practiced Monday but, after a long meeting with executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte, chose not to appear in the locker room afterward.
Sports Illustrated first reported that Massachusetts law enforcement authorities formally subpoenaed Pouncey in Foxborough, Mass., in regards to the ongoing Hernandez criminal investigation.
Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end and University of Florida star, has been charged with the murder of associate Odin Lloyd in Massachusetts.
However, reports are that prosecutors are broadening the scope of their investigation to include Hernandez’s potential involvement in interstate gun trafficking. It is unclear whether authorities view Pouncey as a witness or a possible suspect.
The subpoena was delivered while Pouncey was leaving the visiting locker room Sunday, with reporters from SI, presumably tipped off in advance, in position and awaiting the confrontation. They even snapped a picture of the moment Pouncey was served.
The Dolphins, however, were not given a heads up — removing the possibility of the business being handled in private and away from cameras.
Sunday’s events blindsided Pouncey — who was on his way to the team bus when stopped by law enforcement — but he was in better spirits Monday, according to a league source.
“It made a mockery of the secrecy [of the grand jury],” Broward public defender Howard Finkelstein said. “That’s just simply wrong.”
If prosecutors simply want to pressure Pouncey into saying what he knows about Hernandez’s dealings, the right against self-incrimination wouldn’t apply.
Pouncey could be granted immunity from prosecution over whatever he might say to the grand jury. Should Pouncey decline to testify or lie under oath, he could be subject to perjury or obstruction of justice charges. He has hired a Boston-based attorney to represent him.
The state has had no problem with going after uncooperative witnesses. Prosecutors claim Hernandez’s girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins, perjured herself, while his cousin, Tanya Singleton, is facing contempt charges for refusing to testify to the grand jury.
“The firearms charges ... may be much easier to prove,” said former Miami-Dade prosecutor Andrea Lance, who is now a criminal defense attorney in Boston. “And if the Commonwealth can’t prove the murder charge, the firearms charges may be the best way to convict Hernandez.”
Pouncey and his twin brother Maurkice have been close friends with Hernandez since their days at UF. When Hernandez was arrested over the summer, the twins infamously wore supportive hats reading “Free Hernandez” during their birthday party.
Yet aside from minor traffic issues, Mike Pouncey has stayed out of legal trouble since joining the Dolphins in 2011.