Aaron Josef Hernandez (November 6, 1989 – April 19, 2017) was an American football tight end in the National Football League (NFL). A productive player during his three seasons with the New England Patriots, his career came to an abrupt end after his arrest and initial conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd.
Recognized as an All-American at the University of Florida, Hernandez was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Alongside teammate Rob Gronkowski, he formed one of the league's most dominant tight-end duos, becoming the first pair of tight ends to score at least five touchdowns each in consecutive seasons for the same team. He made one Super Bowl appearance in XLVI.
During the 2013 off-season, Hernandez was arrested and charged for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée. Following his arrest, he was immediately released by the Patriots. Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. While on trial for Lloyd's murder, he was also indicted for the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, but was acquitted after a 2017 trial.
Days after being acquitted of the double homicide, Hernandez was found dead in his cell, which was ruled a suicide. His conviction for Lloyd's murder was subsequently vacated because he died during its appeal. The court's decision to erase the conviction is currently being appealed by the prosecutors and the Lloyd family's attorneys.
On April 19, 2017, at 3:05 a.m. EDT, five days after Hernandez was acquitted of the 2012 Boston double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, correction officers found Hernandez hanging by his bedsheets from his window in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts. He was transported to UMass Memorial Hospital-Leominster, where he was pronounced dead at 4:07 am. State Department of Correction spokesman Christopher Fallon first said no suicide note was found in Hernandez's single-occupant cell. On April 20, 2017, investigators reported that three handwritten notes were next to a Bible opened to John 3:16 and that "John 3:16" was written on his forehead in ink. The notes reportedly said he was entering the "timeless realm" and would see his family in heaven. Shampoo was found covering the floor, cardboard was under the cell door to make it difficult for someone to enter, and there were drawings in blood on the walls showing an unfinished pyramid and the all-seeing eye of God, with the word Illuminati written in capital letters underneath.
Prison officials had not observed any signs that Hernandez was at risk for suicide, so he had not been put on around-the-clock watch. Upon completion of the autopsy by the medical examiner, the death was officially ruled a suicide. At the request of his family, Hernandez's brain was released to Boston University to be studied for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have had a severe blow or repeated blows to the head, including football players who suffer concussions. His lawyer-agent, Jose Baez, disputed any claim of suicide and stated that he would initiate his own investigation of the death.
In September 2017, researchers at the Boston University CTE Center released a statement diagnosing Hernandez as having brain injuries consistent with CTE, stage 3 out of 4, at the time of his death. The statement noted that "CTE is associated with aggressiveness, explosiveness, impulsivity, depression, memory loss and other cognitive changes." In interviews the neuropathologist called Hernandez's brain a classic case of the pathology. After release of the statement, Hernandez's fiancée and daughter sued the Patriots and the NFL for causing Hernandez's death and depriving his daughter of her father's companionship, arguing that Hernandez's NFL career had caused "the most severe case of medically seen" in a person at his age.