May 5, 2017 at 9:37 PM
When Aaron Hernandez was found hanged in his cell last month, in what was ruled a suicide, it came as a surprise to many. After all, even though he was serving a life sentence for murder, the 27-year-old former Patriots tight end had been acquitted of a double-murder just a few days earlier, and during that trial, he was seen smiling and blowing kisses to his fiancee and 4-year-old daughter.
In the aftermath of Hernandez's death, speculation emerged that his motivation may have been to take advantage of a long-standing legal precedent in Massachusetts, one in which a person's conviction can be voided if he or she dies before exhausting the appeals process. If Hernandez essentially had no murder conviction, the logic went, then the Patriots and NFL would no longer have any grounds to continue withholding large sums of money from him or his estate, as they had done since he was first arrested.
Documents made public Friday gave credence to that interpretation of Hernandez's death. A report on the police investigation into the suicide contained this passage: "Another source stated that Hernandez had recently mentioned a rumor. The rumor was that if an inmate has an open appeal on his case and dies in prison, he is acquitted of his charge and will be deemed not guilty."
In a suicide note Hernandez left for his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, he told her, "You're rich." That came as a parenthetical comment after Hernandez had asked her to "look after" a pair of people whose names were redacted.
During the double-murder trial, Jenkins-Hernandez and a defense attorney had filed an affidavit stating that the ex-player had no money left in his estate. That sounded plausible, given that Hernandez could have spent it all on lawyer fees and other expenses during his two criminal trials, plus civil suits filed by the families of the three dead men.
Thus Hernandez telling his fiancee that she's "rich" in his suicide note could indicate that he expected her to come into some money following his death. There has reportedly been a $1.3 million offer made on his house, but proceeds from that sale may be tied to the outcome of the civil suits, and, of course, his suicide would presumably have little impact on that transaction.
However, if the Patriots can no longer cite Hernandez's status as being involved in a murder, they might be compelled to pay his estate the $3.5 million in signing-bonus money, plus possibly $2.5 million from his guaranteed contract, that they have withheld. Similarly, the NFL has been withholding his pension payments.
Sure enough, Hernandez's appellate lawyers have filed a motion asking for his first-degree murder conviction to be overturned, a process known as abatement. The Bristol (Mass.) district attorney's office, though, filed a motion Friday in opposition to that request, and that filing contained the report into his suicide and note to his fiancee.
Prosecutors are aiming to show that Hernandez intended for his family to benefit from his death, and thus that a judge should deny the motion for abatement. In addition, even if the conviction is voided, it's not clear that the Patriots and NFL will be forced to pay up, as language in the league's collective bargaining agreement could preclude such an action.
The police report also contained these details:
Inmates who said they were "close" to Hernandez also claimed that he had become "more and more spiritual" while in prison, and that his suicide "had been some sort of religious message." On Thursday, a report released by the Massachusetts state police on the timeline of the discovery of Hernandez's hanging confirmed earlier news reports that he had written "John 3:16″ in ink on his head.
According to the report, "John 3:16″ was also written on the cell's wall "in a substance consistent with blood," and a Bible was opened to that page, with the verse marked with blood. That verse, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," is among the most popular biblical citations, but could be construed to indicate that Hernandez saw himself as making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of his family.
The report stated that Hernandez made it difficult for prison guards to prevent his suicide by hanging a sheet in front of his cell door, jamming the door with cardboard and placing "a large amount of shampoo on the floor, which made it very slippery." Medical staff gave him CPR as he was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A toxicology report revealed that Hernandez was sober at the time of his death. An audit of the last five phone calls he made did not reveal any hint that he intended to harm himself.