Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, an explosive tight end who had been convicted of murder and last week cleared in two other killings, was discovered dead in his prison cell by a corrections officer early Wednesday morning.
Hernandez, 27, hanged himself with a bed sheet attached to his cell window at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, at approximately 3:05 a.m., and was pronounced dead about an hour later at UMass-Memorial Health Alliance Hospital in Leominster, according to a statement from the Massachusetts Department of Correction. He had attempted to block the door from the inside by jamming it with various items, prison officials said. He was in a single cell in a general population unit in the maximum-security state prison.
His death is being investigated by Massachusetts State Police and the Department of Corrections. An autopsy will be performed by the medical examiner’s office in Boston to determine his cause and manner of death, according to the Worcester District Attorney’s Office.
Prison officials said they are not aware of any suicide note written by Hernandez and they had no concern that Hernandez might take his own life.
Last week, Hernandez was acquitted of all but a gun charge in a lengthy double murder trial. But he was already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his conviction in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who was dating his fiancee’s sister.
Jose Baez, his attorney in the double murder case, said in a statement that Hernandez’s family and legal team were “shocked and surprised by the news of his death and will be conducting its own “examination into this tragic event.”
“There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible,” he said. “Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence.”
John M. Thompson, the attorney handling Hernandez’s appeal in the 2013 murder case, also said Hernandez’s death should be “carefully and thoroughly investigated.”
His death was “a shocking and sad end to a very tragic series of events that has negatively impacted a number of families,” added Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn, who prosecuted Hernandez in the Lloyd case.
The Patriots had no immediate comment. Hernandez’s death comes on the day that the team is visiting the White House to celebrate its fifth Super Bowl victory.
Hernandez was found guilty of murdering Lloyd in 2015. But his death could vacate that conviction, according to attorney Randy Chapman, legal editor for NBC Boston and necn.
“There is a doctrine that says when a conviction is not final, if somebody dies while the appeal is pending, that the case is then dropped,” Chapman said.
The civil case against Hernandez is also likely to be dropped, he said.
“It’s an unusual circumstance, and we would have to prepare carefully before we decide to go about it,” said Thompson, Hernandez’s lawyer. “But normally, a judgement is vacated if the defendant dies amidst an appeal.”
He would not give details on a timeline for this process.
In the second murder trial, prosecutors said Hernandez opened fire on a car, killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, because he felt disrespected when one of the men bumped into him and spilled his drink at a Boston nightclub. Hernandez choked back tears as he was found not guilty of the killings in a Boston courtroom on Friday, while relatives of the victims sobbed loudly.
Hernandez was born in Bristol, Connecticut, and was a star tight end at the University of Florida. He dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of misbehavior in college.
In his three years with the Patriots, Hernandez scored 20 touchdowns and appeared in Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. He was arrested before the start of his fourth season in 2013 and released by the team shortly thereafter.
SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Text HOME to 741741 for a Crisis Text Line.