In the days before his death inside his cell in the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, Aaron Hernandez mentioned to a fellow inmate a rumor he’d heard, according to a Massachusetts State Police report on Hernandez’s death released late Thursday night.
Hernandez was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. However, his automatic appeal was still pending.
“This rumor was that if an inmate had an open appeal on his case and dies in prison, he is acquitted of the charge and will be deemed not guilty,” the 132-page report states, citing an unnamed inmate who was “tight” with Hernandez.
The rumor is mostly correct. Massachusetts has an ancient law on the books that can deem a dead convict whose appeal was not heard not guilty in the eyes of the law. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Bristol County (Mass.) court to hear Hernandez’s argument on this.
It was most famously applied in 2003, when a defrocked Catholic priest, John Geoghan, had his conviction for sexually molesting children vacated after he was strangled and stomped to death by a fellow inmate prior to his appeal being completed. That brutal bit of violence took place in the very same prison Hernandez resided.
Was this motivation for Hernandez to wrap one end of a tightly wound bedsheet to a window grate in his cell and the other around his neck and hang himself early on April 19? Was he motivated by “officially” being cleared of the crime? Did he envision a chance for his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, and his 4-year-old daughter to somehow cash in on any once-lost NFL money or avoid civil suits from victims?
That isn’t certain.
The mystery, as always, with Hernandez is … why?
Why he turned his back on a dream life in the NFL – complete with a $40 million contract – and at home – a fiancée and young daughter – to get caught up in murders and shootings and criminal trials.
And then, why did he choose to take his own life with little to no advance warning, just five days after he won a not-guilty verdict over a 2012 double homicide in Boston?
An extensive state police investigation attempted to figure that out, in part by interviewing nearly every inmate in the G2 block of the prison who had any contact with Hernandez. Seeking information and perspective, police spoke with those who barely shared a nod or a hello with Hernandez to his closest confidants. The messages were mixed.
Some inmates point to his increasing spirituality in the weeks leading up to his death – “He was always quoting the Bible,” one said. That was noted when Hernandez wrote “John 3:16” in blood on his prison cell wall and dabbed a drop on the verse in an open Bible he left on a nearby table before his death. The verse promises eternal life for anyone who believes God sent his son Jesus to perish for them.
“He was a very spiritual guy,” one inmate told police.
Was he soothed by faith in higher beings and higher courts and thus ready to leave the daily misery of a maximum-security prison? The investigation is unwavering in its assessment he took his own life, and requested the case be closed unless additional information emerges. Jose Baez, Hernandez’s attorney, vowed in a statement on Thursday that an independent investigation would occur before making any final conclusions.
Hernandez was buoyed by his not-guilty verdict, according to inmates. “He was in a good place,” one said.
It was a hollow victory, though. Hernandez, just 27, was still serving life for the Lloyd murder. He faced five or six more decades behind bars. And no matter the grand pronouncements of Baez about winning an appeal and then an acquittal at a new trial, those odds were incredibly long.
The former New England Patriots star did seize on that possibility in a conversation with at least one inmate, however.
“Since Friday’s verdict he’s been talking about the NFL and going back to play even if it wasn’t with the Pats,” one said.
That was never going to happen, though. First, even if he walked out of prison, no NFL team would sign him. Second, even if he could somehow win an acquittal on the Lloyd murder, there was still the matter of a four- to five-year sentence on a weapons charge that was scheduled to run consecutive to the Lloyd sentence.
Another inmate said Hernandez talked about getting out and spending time with his daughter. She and Shayanna were scheduled for a visit that coming weekend and Hernandez was excited enough to ask an inmate in charge of laundry to make sure his was ready in time. He apparently wanted to look good.
When he spoke to Jenkins-Hernandez on the phone just prior to being locked in his cell for the night at 7:59 p.m., he made no mention of suicide or anything out of the ordinary, according to an official who listened to a tape of the call. It was the same for all seven of Hernandez’s phone calls that day.
Prison officials are as baffled as anyone. They provide extensive evidence and testimony that Hernandez’s death was indeed a suicide. Everything from three handwritten notes (verified in his handwriting by an outside expert), to the medical examiner’s report, to the well-thought-out manner in which he staged the cell.
A curtain was hung to block anyone looking in, his door was pegged with cardboard so it wouldn’t open automatically and the floor was covered with shampoo and water to make it slippery. There were no defensive wounds or signs of trauma or conflict. The medical examiner determined it was death by asphyxiation. Video surveillance of his cell deck showed no one entered his cell after Hernandez did just before 8 p.m. on April 18.
For this to be a conspiracy to cover up a nearly impossibly well-executed murder, it would require dozens of participants from multiple agencies inside and outside the government.
Not that there aren’t problems – most notably a guard skipping a 2 a.m. bed check that would have likely discovered Hernandez sooner. When he was cut down from the noose, he was cold to the touch, the report said, suggesting he died maybe two hours earlier.
So why did he do it?
The letters he left could provide some insight. Then there is this: On the night of his death, just before returning to his cell, Hernandez stopped by the door of another inmate, according to that inmate.
“Remember when you die, your soul gets reincarnated,” Hernandez said according to the inmate.
They may have been his final words.
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