Ex-Pa­triot Her­nan­dez hangs self in prison cell

For­mer All-State player from Bris­tol dead at 27

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jimmy Golen

BOS­TON >> Hours be­fore his for­mer New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots team­mates were due to visit the White House to cel­e­brate their Su­per Bowl vic­tory, prison of­fi­cials say, Aaron Her­nan­dez tied one end of his bed­sheet to a win­dow and the other around his neck and hanged him­self.

In a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison out­side Bos­ton, about an hour from the sta­dium where he played along­side stars like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowsi, Her­nan­dez jammed the door to his one-man cell lest guards try to stop him and put an early end to the life-with­out-pa­role sen­tence he re­ceived for a 2013 mur­der.

The for­mer All-State player from Bris­tol Cen­tral was 27.

It was the last act in the down­fall of an ath­lete who once seemed to have ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing a fiveyear $40 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion, and threw it all away.

The for­mer NFL star’s death left friends, fam­ily and his le­gal team shocked and in dis­be­lief, search­ing for an ex­pla­na­tion. Just last Fri­day, Her­nan­dez was ac­quit­ted in a sep­a­rate mur­der case.

“There were no con­ver­sa­tions or cor­re­spon­dence from Aaron to his fam­ily or le­gal team that would have in­di­cated any­thing like this was pos­si­ble,” said his 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 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 are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

The Pa­tri­ots had no im­me­di­ate com­ment. At the White House event in the af­ter­noon, Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump con­grat­u­lated the Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons but made no men­tion of Her­nan­dez.

A star tight end for the Univer­sity of Florida when it won the 2008 na­tional cham­pi­onship, 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 had also come up in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a shoot­ing.

Still, he was a pro­duc­tive tight end for the Pa­tri­ots for three sea­sons. Af­ter catch­ing 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 was de­lib­er­at­ing, cam­eras spied Her­nan­dez blow­ing kisses to the young daugh­ter he fa­thered with fi­ancee Shayanna Jenk­ins.

Prose­cu­tors said he gunned the two men down af­ter one ac­ci­den­tally spilled a drink on him in a night­club. Her­nan­dez then got a tat­too of a hand­gun and the words “God For­gives” to com­mem­o­rate the crime, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors.

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 wrong­fuldeath law­suit against Her­nan­dez’s es­tate.

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. You can’t say you don’t think about these things. There’s no go­ing around that.”

Mi­ami Dol­phins cen­ter Mike Pouncey said on In­sta­gram that he spoke with his for­mer col­lege team­mate a day ear­lier.

“To­day my heart hurts as I got the worse news I could have imag­ined,” he said. “I will for­ever miss you and love you bro.”

Friends were also 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. It’s fishy. It makes you wonder what re­ally went on be­hind those walls in prison.”

As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers Denise Lavoie, Mark Pratt and Philip Marcelo in Bos­ton; Dave Collins in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut; and Pa­trick Mairs in Philadel­phia con­trib­uted to this re­port.

KEITH BED­FORD — THE BOS­TON GLOBE VIA AP, FILE

In this file photo, for­mer New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots tight end Aaron Her­nan­dez blows a kiss to his daugh­ter, who sat with her mother, Shayanna Jenk­ins Her­nan­dez, Her­nan­dez’s long­time fi­ancee, dur­ing jury de­lib­er­a­tions in his dou­ble­mur­der trial at Suf­folk Su­pe­rior Court in Bos­ton.

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