clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Aaron Hernandez found dead in prison after apparent suicide

A stunning end to a tragic story.

Aaron Hernandez Court Appearance Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his cell of an apparent suicide at a Massachusetts prison early Wednesday morning, the state’s Department of Correction announced in a statement.

Per the statement, Hernandez was in a single cell in a general population unit of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, and “hanged himself utilizing a bed sheet that he attached to his cell window.”

Hernandez also attempted to block his door from the inside. He was discovered at approximately 3:05 a.m., and pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m. at a nearby University of Massachusetts hospital.

Hernandez was 27.

Hernandez’s death comes as a shock. He was not known to be suicidal, per a Department of Correction spokesman, and had just last week been acquitted of many charges, including murder, in the fatal shootings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in 2012. Hernandez was convicted of a lesser charge of unlawful possession of a gun, however, and the sentence for that crime was to be tacked onto a life sentence handed down for his conviction of the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez also faced civil cases related to both incidents.

However, Massachusetts law includes a legal principle known as “abatement ab initio,” which means that, because he had not exhausted his appeals, the state’s case against Hernandez in the murder of Lloyd reverts to its initial status. That is likely to complicate any civil proceedings against Hernandez’s estate and family.

Prior to his arrest on charges including the murder of Lloyd in 2013, Hernandez had been a tight end for the New England Patriots — and, prior to that, one of the most decorated tight ends in Florida Gators history. Hernandez helped Florida win a national championship in 2008. earned All-American honors and the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end in 2009, and was drafted by the Patriots in 2010, in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

But rumors about Hernandez’s marijuana use at Florida — for which he was never publicly suspended, though he did miss at least one game due to reasons Urban Meyer did not disclose — helped depress his stock entering that draft. And the surge of interest in Hernandez after he was investigated in and charged with Lloyd’s killing helped produce reports suggesting he ran afoul of the law in Gainesville as a freshman in 2007, first after allegedly punching a waiter at the Swamp restaurant, then in a shooting in which he was identified by a victim as an involved party for less than 24 hours.

While those reports surfacing years after the fact was used by some to imply a level of cover-up for, complicity with, or enabling of Hernandez by Florida or local law enforcement, those incidents both happened when Hernandez was 17, and his juvenile status prevented public identification in those cases at the time. The latter report of the shooting — in which a victim identified Hernandez as an involved party and rescinded his identification later that day — also came from an open case, and was released in error by the Gainesville Police Department.

After being drafted by the Patriots, and while excelling on the field as a complement to Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez allegedly fell back in with a cadre of criminals and drug users from his nearby hometown of Bristol, Connecticut, and became addicted to PCP, or “angel dust.” One day after the June 17, 2013 death of Lloyd — who was then dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee — Hernandez’s home was searched by North Attleboro police. Within a week, Hernandez had been arrested and charged with murder.

That led to the revelation of a civil lawsuit filed by Alexander Bradley against Hernandez in Florida for a February 2013 nightclub shooting in which he claimed Hernandez shot him in the eye. Bradley would later become the primary witness for the prosecution in the case of the murders of de Abreu and Furtado, testifying that he was with Hernandez at the time of the shooting, and was told to keep quiet.

Two friends of Hernandez would also be charged with murder in Lloyd’s killing, and a cousin of Hernandez and his fiancée would eventually be charged an accessory to murder, and then with perjury.

In 2013, days after Hernandez was charged with Lloyd’s murder, I wrote about the case, and called it an “American tragedy.”

Maybe Hernandez, years from now, in prison, tells the story of how it all went so wrong, and how grave his mistake was, offering his cautionary tale as a means of meager penance. Maybe we all silently agree that, for every moment we spend worrying about how this affects the reputations of living people and institutions, we spend another praying or thinking good thoughts for Odin Lloyd and his family.

Hernandez had realized an American dream, maybe The American Dream, as a successful and rich famous person with a family and a future. He has forfeited it, and seems complicit in bringing an abrupt end to another American's pursuit of it. This is, unequivocally, a tragedy, and it is outrageous how common it really is, and how many similar tales could be told.

I stand by those words, and will note that the scope of the tragedy has now expanded to more innocent victims killed, an acquittal that discomfits, and a suicide that leaves families of innocent victims with a far harder road to justice that criminal courts could not deliver.

But while I have no sympathy for Aaron Hernandez, thanks to the callous acts, confirmed and alleged, nor much for the woman who stood by him staunchly as he maintained his innocence, that man and that woman brought a daughter into this world. Today, at four years old, that girl may learn that she will never see her father again — and for years, her mother’s life will be consumed with the fallout of her partner’s monstrous doings, with that father and partner abdicating his responsibilities for them by exiting this existence.

Aaron Hernandez is no longer among the living, much like three men whose lives he allegedly ended, and the temptation is to detect some karmic retribution in that fact, to derive some modicum of solace or justice from the last death by his hand.

But when I consider the sweep of Hernandez’s stunningly short and lamentably eventful life, the only things I see are sorrow and pain.