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Rise And Fall of Aaron Hernandez

It’s been 1,691 days since Aaron Hernandez signed a 7 year contract worth $39.582 million with the New England Patriots.  He was coming off of a Super Bowl MVP caliber performance against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI and would have taken home the honor if New England had won the game.  He was 22 years old and had everything going for him.  But just 10 months later it all changed.

On June 17th, 2013, the body of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd was found in an industrial park in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, near the home of Aaron Hernandez.  Four days later, video surfaced of Hernandez and Lloyd together the night before Lloyd’s body was found.  Then five days after that, on June 26th, Hernandez was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd and within 90 minutes was cut by the New England Patriots.

The young man had so much promise and potential.  23 years old with a 9 month old daughter and a 24 year old fiancé.  Only one question remained.  Why?

Aaron Josef Hernandez was born on November 6th, 1989 and grew up in Bristol, Connecticut along with his parents and older brother D.J.  He was a stud for the Bristol Central High School football, basketball and track & field teams but it was clear that football was his calling (he also played on an AAU basketball team coached by UConn Women’s coach Geno Auriemma).  D.J. and Aaron played together for one season (Aaron’s freshman year and D.J.’s senior year) and D.J. went on to play quarterback at the University of Connecticut like his father Dennis.  Dennis was a legend at Bristol Central in his own right, and he played running back for UConn following his career as a Ram.  Aaron was originally committed to play there as well and would have been reunited with his brother but in the winter of his junior year, everything changed.

Aaron’s father Dennis was the most influential person in his life.  Dennis had a several problems with the law in his early years, but he turned his life around and taught hard work and perseverance to his two sons.  Aaron was the type of kid who was friendly with everybody to a fault and Dennis kept him in line.  He knew the potential that Aaron had and he worked extremely hard to make sure Aaron put himself in the best possible situation to succeed.  On January 6th, 2006, Dennis passed away after getting an infection from a routine hernia surgery.  He was 49.  Aaron was only 16 at the time and with D.J. away at UConn he became the man of the house.

After his father’s death, Aaron changed.  He became very angry and started to hang out with a questionable group of people.  Aaron also became the nation’s top tight end prospect and he was receiving attention from many of the top schools in the country.  Although originally committed to UConn, he decided to change his commitment to the University of Florida both to play against the best competition in the nation and to get away from his home state of Connecticut.  He graduated from Bristol Central High School a semester early and two months after his 17th birthday he went down to Gainesville to enroll at Florida in January of 2007.

Hernandez still holds the Connecticut state records for receiving yards in a game (376 vs. Newington, 2005), season (1,807, 2005) and career (3,677, 2003-06), is fourth in career receptions (172), third in career touchdowns (47), third/22nd in touchdowns in a season (24 in ’05, 16 in ’06) and holds the record for consecutive games with a touchdown (18).

Hernandez’s career at Florida did not start off well as he was involved in a fight outside a bar in April of 2007.  The dispute was caused over a bar tab and it ended with Hernandez allegedly punching a bouncer in the head so hard that he burst an ear drum.  The situation was resolved without any legal intervention and other than a one game suspension in 2008 for a failed drug test, Hernandez was not involved in any negative antics off the field while he was a member of the Florida Gators.  Urban Meyer, Florida’s Head Coach at the time, took great care of Hernandez and appeared to be the father figure that he needed following Dennis’ death.  Hernandez blossomed into one of the nation’s top tight ends and was an essential member of the 2008 National Championship team.  After receiving the John Mackey Award  (college football’s best tight end) and being selected first team All-SEC and first team All-American in 2009, Hernandez decided to leave Florida and prepare for the 2010 NFL Draft.

Most draft experts had Aaron Hernandez as a first round talent but he still could not escape his past.  A lot of teams said that he had too many red flags and a few of the teams said that they would not draft him at all regardless of his talent on the field.  He fell to the fourth round where the New England Patriots selected him with the 113th pick.  The Patriots are notorious for taking on guys with a history of bad character and turning them into positive locker room influences.  Hernandez was another risk that Head Coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft decided to take.  On March 10th, 2010, Jordan Ruby wrote an NFL Draft Profile for Aaron Hernandez on SB Nation.  Under the ‘character’ section Ruby wrote, “…there is the often quoted but never confirmed line from Urban Meyer during Hernandez’s freshman year, ‘Aaron will either be in prison or a Hall of Famer.’”

While with the Patriots, Hernandez became a star.  Working with fellow rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, he quickly became one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets.  Hernandez finished the season third on the team with 45 receptions and reeled in 6 touchdowns in 14 games.  The following year he helped the Patriots get to Super Bowl XLVI and had eight catches for 67 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort.  Before his third season started, Hernandez signed a seven year deal worth just shy of $40 million for his production with the Patriots.  But little did anyone know, he was entering his final season as a professional football player.

On Monday June 17th, 2013, a jogger found the body of Odin Lloyd, a 27 year old semiprofessional football player for the Boston Bandits, in an industrial park in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.  The park was a mile away from Aaron Hernandez’s home.  North Attleboro Police searched Hernandez’s house for evidence on June 18th and again on June 22nd before eventually arresting and charging him with first degree murder on June 26th.  The Patriots had known that he was a person of interest in the case and within 90 minutes of his arrest he is released.

Hernandez was also with his two friends, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest “Bo” Wallace at the time of the murder and they were arrested as well.  The indictment of Hernandez did not come until August 22nd and he plead guilty on September 9th.  Despite no murder weapon being found, after a 77 day trial, Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder on April 15th, 2015 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Before Hernandez’s trial for the Odin Lloyd murder even started, other charges began to emerge.  He was accused by a former friend, Alexander Bradley, of shooting him in the face and leaving him for dead in February of 2013 after a party in Florida.  Bradley had a criminal history and had been convicted of drug charges in the past which was why he waited until after Hernandez was charged with murder to file a civil lawsuit.  But he would prove to have a much more important part in the future of Hernandez.

While searching for evidence in the Odin Lloyd case, police found a silver Toyota 4-Runner that was seen in an unsolved double murder in 2012.  It turns out that Alexander Bradley was with Aaron Hernandez the night of that double murder and they were seen driving away from the crime scene in a silver SUV with Rhode Island plates, eerily similar to the 4-Runner found at one of Hernandez’s houses.  Bradley claimed that Hernandez shot him in the face because he was trying to kill him and eliminate the one witness in that 2012 drive by shooting.  Because of these allegations, Hernandez was charged with witness intimidation in May 2013, a month after he was convicted of first degree murder, and then Hernandez was charged with two counts of first degree murder in May of 2014.

Alexander Bradley was the star witness for the prosecution in the murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in June 2012.  According to Bradley, he was driving the car and Aaron Hernandez was the one who pulled the trigger and killed the two men after one of the men spilled a drink on him at a Boston night club.  Bradley is currently in prison for shooting up a night club but was offered immunity by the prosecution to testify against his former best friend Aaron Hernandez.  The defense, headlined by lawyer Jose Baez (Casey Anthony’s defense lawyer), used this as an excuse to say that he was in fact the triggerman who killed the two men and that he was trying to throw Hernandez under the bus.  Bradley also said that he openly wanted to kill Hernandez.  But then a text from Bradley to his attorney went public and put his entire testimony in question.  According to the texts, he was concerned about possibly facing perjury charges if he told a jury the “truth about not being able to recall anything about who shot me.”  Now it comes down to whether or not the jury believes his testimony.

On April 5th, the defense rested its case and the closing arguments began on April 6th.

Jose Baez stated in his closing arguments that the prosecution had no steady ground to stand on.  He referenced the fact that their star witness, Alexander Bradley, is a convicted criminal and drug dealer who wanted to get back at Hernandez for allegedly shooting him in the face and leaving him for dead in Florida.  Bradley is serving time in a Connecticut prison for another charge and Baez says Bradley could walk free by 2019.  He blamed the prosecution for giving Bradley immunity to testify against Hernandez when he believes Bradley was the shooter that night.  Baez also claimed that the prosecution was desperate to pin the murders on Hernandez and there was no physical evidence that Hernandez was the killer.  Baez made it clear to the jury that their verdict is “irrevocable” and that there was plenty of reasonable doubt.

After a short recess it was the prosecutions turn for their 90 minutes.  Patrick Haggan represented the prosecution and did a great job taking all of the circumstantial evidence and connecting it all to say Hernandez was the one who took the lives of de Abreu and Furtado.  He referenced the fact that the 4-Runner was found at the house of Aaron Hernandez’s relative.  He talked about the allegations that Hernandez shot Alexander Bradley in the face after Bradley reminded Hernandez of the “f***ed up” stuff that happened in Boston.  Haggan then went as far as to bring up Hernandez’s tattoos.  One features what appears to be the murder weapon with five bullets in it with “God Forgives” written above it.  Haggan called that “a confession.”

Judge Locke called the attorneys to sidebar during the prosecutions closing arguments three separate times because Haggan spoke about some speculation but after all was said and done, the prosecution finished their arguments at 1:05 PM.  The jury broke for lunch until 2:30 PM and Judge Locke read about 110 minutes of instructions upon their return.  Court was adjourned until Friday April 7th at 9:00 AM and then Hernandez’s fate was in the hands of the jury.

At 2:43 PM on Friday, April 14, 2017, a verdict was reached.

For the murder of Daniel de Abreu.  Not guilty.

For the murder of Safiro Furtado.  Not guilty.

For unlawful possession of a firearm.  Guilty.

For the shooting of Alexander Bradley.  Not guilty.

Judge Locke sentenced Hernandez to 4-5 years for his firearm possession charge.  Hernandez’s lawyer Jose Baez has never had a client convicted of first degree murder and will work with Hernandez for the appeal of his 2015 conviction of Odin Lloyd’s murder in which he continues to serve a life sentence.

UPDATE:

Just five days after he was acquitted, Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his cell in an apparent suicide.  Hernandez used his bed sheet to take his own life and tried to jam his door shut from the inside.  He was discovered by corrections officers around 3 am and was rushed to a Massachusetts hospital where he was pronounced dead at 4:07 am.  Prison officials said that Hernandez was not previously a suicide risk.  He was 27.

Aaron Hernandez:  11/6/1989 – 4/19/2017

 

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