SHIRLEY, Mass. — Blue lights flashed atop a silver Massachusetts Department of Correction cruiser around the clock in Aaron Hernandez’s wake. The vehicle was parked at the head of State Rd. outside Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. Officers sat inside until shifts changed. Sun shone. Seven television satellite trucks choked Shirley Rd. by Route 2. Cameramen trained their lenses on a rusty sign that marks the site as “SHIRLEY COMPLEX.” It was a checkpoint. Hernandez, a convicted murderer who was registered as Inmate W106228, was dead a day now. He was 27.
“There were no signs of a struggle,” Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said after autopsy results came in. “Investigators determined that Mr. Hernandez was alone at the time of the hanging.”
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Henry N. Nields performed the autopsy. Nields ruled that Hernandez hanged himself in a single cell of a general-population housing unit on site. Convicted of firing six .45-caliber bullets into Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old landscaper from Fayston St. in Dorchester in 2015, Hernandez took his own life by tying a bed sheet around his neck on one end and fastening the other end to a window. There were 366 cameras recording 24 hours per day at the maximum-security prison that spreads across 500,000 square feet on 18 acres of state-owned land. No video of Hernandez’s last acts was made available, but the District Attorney stated that Hernandez was locked in his cell at 8 p.m. Tuesday as he continued to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the Lloyd killing. No one entered before a corrections officer observed Hernandez hanging by the bed sheet at 3:03 a.m. Investigators found three hand-written notes next to a Bible in the cell.
Hernandez was rushed to UMass Memorial HealthAlliance, a hospital on a hill in nearby Leominster. The pine-lined roadway in between was less than eight miles. The route included a sign that announces “The Home of Johnny Appleseed.” A hospital advertisement by the emergency room read: “Everyone, everyday.” Hernandez was ruled dead by a physician at 4:07 a.m. A locker in the security office was dotted with Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI champion stickers.
Daybreak came at 5:58 a.m. after Hernandez’s death. By 10 a.m., there was a call to investigate the death. His attorney, Jose Baez, asserted that Hernandez’s family was “shocked and surprised.” He insisted that no family member or attorney received any correspondence or engaged in any conversation with Hernandez that indicated suicide was possible. Not five days after Hernandez was acquitted of a double homicide in Suffolk County Superior Court, Baez called Hernandez’s death “a tragic event,” and promised to examine all evidence regarding his client’s demise. Hernandez was looking forward to the appellate process from his first trial.
“Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death,” Baez said.
Massachusetts State Police probed Hernandez’s death after combing through details of his double life for four years. Once the owner of a manse in North Attleborough, Mass., Hernandez ended his life in tight quarters under strict rules. Prison officials noted that Hernandez “attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door” with cardboard.
Back in North Attleborough, the doors to his former home were closed and a “FOR SALE” sign dotted his lawn. It was put on the market for $1,299,000.
Former teammates were feted as Hernandez finished his fall. Hernandez’s former team was celebrated for claiming a second Lombardi Trophy since he was arrested on June 26, 2013. Owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick were praised by President Trump. There was no mention of Hernandez, once a member of a Super Bowl team in 2012.
There will be legal wrangling in Massachusetts soon. Hernandez’s conviction may be voided. The Supreme Judicial Court in the commonwealth did not confirm the guilty verdict that 12 jurors rendered in Bristol County on April 15, 2015. Hernandez is expected to be deemed innocent by the letter of the law. Ursula Ward, the mother of Lloyd, remained reticent. She attended court each day of the 10-week trial in 2015. Her bullet-riddled son is buried in a Boston cemetery. His casket is stitched “Going home” on the interior. A wrongful death lawsuit looms.
“She is taking it in stride,” said Douglas Sheff, an attorney representing Lloyd’s family in the civil case. “She believes in a higher power.”
Hernandez was born November 6, 1989. The year was inked into his knuckles. In between his birth and death, he won a national title and caught a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl. He was convicted of one murder and acquitted of two others. He lost his father Dennis to complications following a hernia operation and grew away from his mother Terri. He gave birth to a daughter, Avielle, with Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, his fiancée, and left the child fatherless at four years old. He was sentenced to a lifetime in prison without the possibility of parole in 2015. He was additionally sentenced to four or five more years for illegal possession of a firearm five days before his death. He died in prison in the middle of the night.
Blue lights swirled atop a police cruiser racing across Albany St. in Boston Thursday. Hernandez’s body was brought from the Medical Examiner’s Office there to Faggas Funeral Home in nearby Watertown. His brain was to be released to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center after first being held by the medical examiner. Baez questioned the separation and delay. He wanted answers as he stood on a street corner in Boston.
Police sirens wailed once more.