It’s difficult now to remember just how good a football player Aaron Hernandez was. The narrative arc of his life went so off the rails, it’s become just a footnote. Something used more to make fun of the New England Patriots than make any real statement about the man and his crimes.
He and teammate Rob Gronkowski were both taken in the same draft, Gronk in round two and Hernandez in round four, and for three seasons they were easily the best tight end tandem in the NFL and practically unstoppable weapons for Tom Brady at the Pats offense.
We all know what happened next. Hernandez was convicted for the first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. It was a crazy situation. Hernandez was a legitimate NFL star in the prime of his career. He’d just signed a new contract with the Patriots right before he was arrested.
The only comparable situation was when Ray Lewis was put on trial for murder back in 2000, but his charges were dismissed, guilty more of lying for a couple of his friends, and, incidentally, both of those guys (Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting) were acquitted of all charges.
But Hernandez wasn’t acquitted at all of Lloyd’s murder. He got the second worst possible sentence you can get in the USA and he’s lucky he killed Lloyd in Massachusetts. If he’d killed Lloyd anywhere else he wouldn’t have had the chance to kill himself. The state would have done it for him.
You can’t compare Hernandez’s conviction to former Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Rae Carruth’s. Carruth was never more than a bit player in the Panthers’ offense. No one outside of deep Panthers fandom would have ever known his name if he hadn’t killed his pregnant girlfriend. The baby she was carrying (she was eight months pregnant) survived, but suffered permanent brain damage and suffers from cerebral palsy.
The irony of Carruth being mentioned back in the news after Hernandez’s suicide is he’s about to get out of prison. He’s scheduled to be released on Oct. 22, 2018.
Then there’s Lawrence Phillips, former St. Louis Rams first round draft pick who hung himself in his jail cell after a judge ruled he’d stand trial for murdering a former cellmate. That’s really the closest you’ll get, but Phillips was never a star. He was always a pariah.
The truth is the Hernandez situation stands alone in NFL history. A guy with the world at his fingertips, millions in the bank and multi-millions more on the way, could not leave the criminal path he grew up walking behind. Not even for the NFL.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) April 20, 2017
Even will sitting in prison facing a life sentence, Hernandez had two more murders to answer for and last week he was acquitted, somehow. The 2012 double homicide of Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teizeria Furtado, according to the courts and jury, were done by someone else. The acquittal put Hernandez back in the news, with the now familiar sight of him sitting between a nest of lawyers in a suit, his neck tattoo peaking out from the collar of an expensive, button-down shirt. When the acquittal was announced, he wept.
Wednesday morning Hernadez was found dead in his cell, hanging by the neck with a bed sheet. He had stuffed cardboard into the door jamb to keep guards from saving him and was discovered around 3 a.m. He had written John 3:16 across his own forehead.
Thursday the Worcester District Attorney’s office revealed they had discovered three handwritten suicide notes next to a Bible and, after an autopsy, officially ruled Hernandez’s death a suicide.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) April 20, 2017
Hernandez’s family has requested his brain be donated to science to check for signs of CTE.
So why did Hernandez do this now? He had an appeal of his conviction for Lloyd’s murder in the works and, after his recent acquittal, it seems as if he’d have some real hope that would succeed. Why the urge now, years after his conviction, did he make this choice?
Until his three suicide notes are released to the public, there’s just no way to know. Hernandez leaves behind a four-year old daughter, Avielle Janelle Hernandez.
Aaron Hernandez was 27 years old.
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