New clues on Aaron Hernandez death from inside his prison cell, sources say

BOSTON -- Aaron Hernandez’s death in prison overnight Wednesday - just days after the former NFL star was cleared of additional murder charges - remains shrouded in mystery.

Why now? Is there more to the story? What happens to his estate?

Authorities offered few answers after Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet Wednesday in his cell in a maximum-security prison in Massachusetts, where he was serving a life sentence for the 2013 slaying of a onetime friend.

His death came hours before his former New England Patriots teammates visited the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl victory. Hernandez, 27, died five days after a jury acquitted him in the 2012 shooting deaths of two men whom prosecutors alleged he gunned down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him at a Boston nightclub.

The apparent suicide left friends, family and his legal team shocked and in disbelief. Many were searching for an explanation to the tragic end of a young man whose football skills at one point earned him a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the NFL’s top franchise.

CBS Boston has learned that Hernandez had the Bible verse John 3:16 written on his forehead in red marker, and that investigators are looking into the possibility that he smoked synthetic marijuana Tuesday night.

The verse is one of the most quoted in Christianity and says in part that whoever believes in Jesus “shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Hernandez also appeared to have red marks on his hands and feet.

CBS Boston also learned investigators believe the last person to see Hernandez alive was a 22-year-old friend and fellow inmate who is now under suicide watch.

“There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible,” said Hernandez attorney Jose Baez. “Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence. Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death.”

Guards found Hernandez shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Shirley, Correction Department spokesman Christopher Fallon said. The guards were on their regular rounds, CBS Boston says. The former tight end was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead about an hour later.

Fallon said he was not aware of any suicide note and officials had no reason to believe Hernandez was suicidal. Otherwise, he would have been transferred to a mental health unit, Fallon said.

The Worcester County district attorney’s office and the Correction Department were investigating, and Massachusetts’ chief medical examiner was conducting an autopsy.

The Patriots had no immediate comment, and President Donald Trump made no mention of Hernandez at the White House event.

A star tight end for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name also had come up in an investigation into a shooting.

Still, he was a productive tight end for the Patriots for three seasons. He caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in his second year to help the team reach the Super Bowl.

But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested in the killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Last week, Hernandez was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston. As the jury deliberated, cameras spied Hernandez blowing kisses to the young daughter he fathered with fiancee Shayanna Jenkins.

Investigators suggested Hernandez shot Lloyd to keep him quiet about the two earlier killings. A lawyer who represents Lloyd’s mother said she’s moving forward with a wrongful-death lawsuit against Hernandez’s estate, which includes a home valued at $1.3 million.

In the Dorchester neighborhood where Lloyd grew up, a family friend of the victim wondered if Hernandez could no longer bear the weight of his crime and his squandered potential.

“I just think it got to him - the guilt,” Mixson Philip said. “Each man has to live with himself. You can put on an act like nothing happened, but you’ve got a soul. You’ve got a heart.”

Friends also were grieving in Connecticut, where Hernandez was raised.

“Especially after him getting acquitted of the double murder. That was a positive thing in our minds,” said Alex Cugno, who grew up with Hernandez in Bristol. “I don’t believe that he would have killed himself. It just doesn’t add up.”

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Days after acquittal, Hernandez found hanged in his cell

Convicted killer and former New England Patriots star Aaron J. Hernandez was found hanged inside his cell at the state’s maximum security prison in Shirley early Wednesday, dead of an apparent suicide five days after he was acquitted of two additional murders.

He was found hanging from a bedsheet attached to a window in his cell in Unit G-2 of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center at about 3:05 a.m., the state Department of Correction said in a statement. The agency said Hernandez had tried to block the door to prevent officers from entering.

His death came on the same day that many of his former teammates were honored at the White House for winning Super Bowl 51. At one time, Hernandez was a key piece of the team’s offense. He had been a football prodigy, selected by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 National Football League draft.

Hernandez, 27, who had appeared buoyant during his recent trial on charges of killing two men in the South End, was already serving life without parole for killing Odin L. Lloyd in an industrial park near the football player’s million-dollar North Attleborough home in 2013.

The arc of Hernandez’s life was short and steep. He seemed destined for the highest levels of fortune and acclaim in professional sports, only to throw it away by shooting Lloyd, his friend, whom he picked up the night of the murder and drove to the execution.

Hernandez’s legacy in Boston sports will be one of profound tragedy.

Prison officials said Wednesday that Hernandez was taken to UMass Memorial-HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster. He was pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m., the Department of Correction said. The state medical examiner’s office has since taken custody of Hernandez’s body. An investigation will be overseen by Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.’s office.

The medical examiner’s office will conduct an autopsy at its Boston facility, according to Early’s office.

A prisoner advocate said hanging from a cell window is an unusual way for an inmate to kill himself at the Souza-Baranowski facility, which is designed to make suicide difficult.

Hernandez’s lead defense attorney, Jose Baez, said his office will conduct its own investigation into the death.

“There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible. Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence,” Baez said in a statement. “Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death. We request that authorities conduct a transparent and thorough investigation.”

Correction Department spokesman Christopher Fallon said there was no suicide note found during the initial search of the two-man cell Hernandez occupied alone. He was not on a suicide watch because he had not signaled he was at risk, Fallon said.

“If he had made any kind of statement, he would have not been in that unit,’’ Fallon said.

Hernandez is the 27th recorded suicide in Massachusetts state prisons since 2010 and the second this year, according to state records.

Corrections officers conduct nighttime bed checks once an hour, Fallon said. The checks are done on a staggered schedule to increase the chance of discovering an inmate with an issue, he said.

Speaking in general, Fallon said inmates most often use paper to jam cell doors when attempting to prevent corrections officers from entering.

Souza-Baranowski Superintendent Steven Silva personally notified Hernandez’s relatives about the former professional athlete’s death, he said.

Last Friday, a Suffolk Superior Court jury acquitted Hernandez of killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a July 2012 drive-by shooting in the South End.

For 61-year-old Ernesto Abreu, there was no satisfaction in Hernandez’s death: It would not, he said, bring his son back.

“I’m not happy about his death; it’s actually a shame, any loss of life is a shame. I believe in leaving things in God’s hands,” said the father, speaking in Cape Verdean Creole.

Later, by phone, he said he wished the case had turned out differently.

“Legally, there is no one at blame for my son’s death, and, yes, I’m sad about that, but we are moving on from this,” Abreu said. Furtado’s family declined to speak to reporters.

“The family has their own loss to concentrate on, the loss of these two young fellows,” said William Kennedy, the attorney for Furtado’s estate. “I don’t think they take any joy in the loss of the Hernandez family. . . . That’s the way they are. They keep God in their hearts at all times.”

Throughout his recent trial, Hernandez appeared alert and engaged. He would smile or wave when he looked at Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, his longtime fiancee and the mother of his daughter.

During the seven-week trial, Hernandez often joked with court clerks, told them to enjoy their day and teased one clerk in particular about his haircut — because the man is bald and has nothing to cut.

During lunch breaks, the tall former athlete would devour the egg salad sandwiches he was provided by the court, several clerks said.

“The happiest defendant I ever saw,’’ said one courthouse employee, who asked not to be identified by name.

The jury deliberated for six days. Hernandez nodded and choked back tears when the verdict came down — not guilty on every charge except a gun-related crime.

A person with direct knowledge who spoke on condition of anonymity said that while many observers of Hernandez’s recent trial remarked on his confident demeanor, within prison walls he was insecure and clung to gang members for approval.

He was not aloof with other inmates, this person said. Instead, he appeared eager to be “one of the boys.” He often sat and laughed or played basketball with gang members. Hernandez was briefly put on on suicide watch immediately after the Lloyd conviction, the person said.

John M. Thompson, the Springfield attorney assigned by the court to handle Hernandez’s appeal of his conviction for Lloyd’s murder, said he was “shocked and saddened’’ by his client’s death.

“It’s awful to see a young man to die at this age,’’ Thompson said in a telephone interview. “We were engaged in his case. We were dedicating to getting his appeal going.’’

Thompson, citing attorney-client privilege, declined to say when he last met with Hernandez and also declined to describe his client’s state of mind recently. He said his office had received 61 volumes of transcripts covering portions of the Bristol County trial.

He said he hoped that Hernandez’s death would be properly and dispassionately investigated.

Thompson also said his office will file paperwork to have Hernandez’s conviction voided once a death certificate is available, because he died before his appeals were exhausted.

Thompson noted that Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III could challenge the motion to vacate the conviction.

Quinn spokesman Gregg Miliote declined to comment on that issue Wednesday. However, Quinn issued a brief statement about Hernandez’s death.

“This is a shocking and sad end to a very tragic series of events that has negatively impacted a number of families,’’ Quinn said in the statement.

Odin Lloyd of Dorchester, 27, the man that Hernandez was in prison for shooting, was a semipro football player for the Boston Bandits. He was shot multiple times by a .45-caliber weapon in a secluded sand pit near Hernandez’s home in June 2013. After the killing, suspicion quickly built around Hernandez. News crews staked out his house.

Nine intense days after Lloyd was found dead, the NFL star was arrested for murder. The Patriots cut him from the team within 90 minutes of his arrest and swiftly scrubbed his name from the team website.

Hernandez’s sports agent on Wednesday questioned the report that he had killed himself.

“Absolutely no chance he took his own life,” Brian Murphy, the agent, wrote on Twitter, using a nickname to refer to his client. “Chico was not a saint, but my family and I loved him, and he would never take his own life.”

Hernandez was represented at his most recent trial by top defense lawyers, including Baez and Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard Law School professor.

Both lawyers have said they believed the acquittal meant that Hernandez was moving toward being reunited with his family — the sole barrier being his conviction for murdering Lloyd, which was to be automatically reviewed by the state’s highest court.

Baez on Tuesday tweeted a link to a long ESPN story in which he expressed confidence that he would successfully overturn Hernandez’s Bristol County Superior Court conviction.

“I think there are plenty of flaws in that conviction,” he told ESPN. “If they are exposed properly, [Hernandez] certainly can and should get a new trial.”

After the verdict last week, Hernandez turned in court toward Jenkins-Hernandez, and said, “I love you.”


Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez hangs himself in prison, officials say

Convicted murderer and former NFL star Aaron Hernandez was found hanged in his Massachusetts prison cell Wednesday morning, just days after his acquittal in a double murder case.

The 27-year-old former tight end for the New England Patriots hanged himself with a bedsheet attached to a window in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, the Massachusetts Department of Correction said. His body was discovered at 3:05 a.m.

"Lifesaving techniques were attempted on Mr. Hernandez, and he was transported to UMass Leominster, where he was pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m.," the correction department's statement reads.

Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence, was alone in his cell in a general population wing and had "attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door with various items," the statement reads.

Massachusetts State Police are investigating his death. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death, the Worcester County district attorney's office said.

Jose Baez, an attorney for Hernandez, has been retained by the athlete's family to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death and will act as the executor of his estate, according to a statement from Baez.

"The family and legal team is shocked and surprised at the news of Aaron's death," Baez said in the statement. "There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible.

"Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence. Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death."

His death marks one of the most dramatic falls from grace by an athlete in recent memory, and comes the same day that many of his former teammates visit the White House as Super Bowl champions.

A life sentence for Odin Lloyd murder
Hernandez's life sentence was for his conviction of first-degree murder in the 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée.

A jogger found Lloyd's gunshot-riddled body in a Massachusetts industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez's home on June 17, 2013. Hernandez was charged with murder nine days later, and the Patriots released him.

He was found guilty in April 2015 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"This is a shocking and sad end to a very tragic series of events that has negatively impacted a number of families," said Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn, who prosecuted the Lloyd case.

In May 2014, prosecutors charged Hernandez with two murder counts in the July 2012 deaths of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu, two men who were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a Boston nightclub.

Hernandez was found not guilty last Friday of two counts of murder in that case, though he was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm.

Hernandez was visibly emotional when the verdicts were read, embracing his attorneys.

"You could tell that he was relieved as well," Ronald Sullivan Jr., his defense attorney, said after the verdict. "He was charged for something somebody else did, and that is a weighty burden for anyone to shoulder."

Despite the acquittal, the families of Furtado and de Abreu still believe Hernandez is responsible for their deaths, lawyer William Kennedy said. They are considering whether to proceed with a civil case against the estate. The case had been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Through a Creole translator, Furtado's father, Salvatore Furtado, said he took no joy in Hernandez's death. But he still wants accountability for the lives of his son and his friend, whom were often reduced to their professions -- cleaners -- in reports on the trial.

"They were more than cleaners," Kennedy said. "They were good people who deserved to live and that was robbed from them and the companionship was robbed from their families."

With the acquittal, Hernandez's attorneys had turned their attention toward appealing for a new trial in the Lloyd case. As recently as Tuesday, Baez said he was optimistic about getting that case overturned.
"Knowing what I know about Aaron, and knowing Aaron, there's a good chance that perhaps we can get that reversed," the lawyer told CNN then.

Football career dogged by allegations
Hernandez's arrest cut short what had been a promising football career burgeoning on stardom, beginning in his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut.

From there, he caught passes from Tim Tebow at the University of Florida and was a key contributor to that team's 2008 national championship. Hernandez then became the first Gator to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to the NCAA's best tight end.

But Hernandez was dogged by allegations of failed drug tests and was picked by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Still, with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady throwing to him, Hernandez shined for New England. The Patriots rewarded him in 2012 with a five-year contract extension worth up to $40 million.

In all, Hernandez spent more time in prison than on the field with the Patriots.

Stacey James, a spokesman for the Patriots, said the team was aware of the news but did not anticipate any comment.

Mike Pouncey, a teammate at Florida, posted a photo of Hernandez on Instagram and said they had just talked to each other the day before.

"To my friend my brother! Through thick and thin right or wrong we never left each other's side," Pouncey wrote. "Today my heart hurts as I got the worse news I could have imagined. It was just a day ago we shared our last convo. I will forever miss you and love you bro."

Hernandez is survived by his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, and their 4-year-old daughter.
As Hernandez waited last week during jury deliberations, he waved and blew kisses to his daughter in the courtroom.

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