By Michael James
The Tribe Sports
For a long time to come, those interested enough in the dark side of the human condition will struggle to understand why former New England Patriots star-turned-killer, Aaron Hernandez, committed the ultimate sin of suicide just days after being acquitted of double murder.
They will consider the rap he beat and the minuscule chance they believe he had to escape incarceration for the life without parole sentence he was serving for the crime of having been convicted by a jury of his peers in the cold-blooded, first-degree murder of his friend and former semipro football player, Odin Lloyd, in June 2013.
They will replay in their minds the image of him finally showing a shred of humanity after almost four years behind bars and two prosecutions, blowing kisses to his adorable 4-year-old daughter, Avielle Hernandez, and conclude – with certainty – that the 27-year-old fallen star still had much to live for.
Finally, they will ask themselves this almost unanswerable question:
Why did Aaron Hernandez take his own life?
But, just like any mathematical equation where an answer cannot be ascertained if the premise is flawed, a suitable conclusion is quite impossible to reach because they are simply asking the wrong question.
The right question is this: When did Aaron Hernandez decide to kill himself?
A day after he ended it all by tying a bed sheet around his neck sometime after midnight at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, it’s becoming clear that the answer is he’d been planning his exit for weeks.
So, despite conspiracy theories that the one-time $40 million dollar man was murdered, evidence found at the death scene – including hand-written notes to his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, his daughter and a third either to his lawyers or a jailhouse lover, depending upon whom you believe – showed Hernandez ended his life the way he lived it: on his own terms.
Before the details began to emerge, which included a considerably well-thought out and staged end-of-life setting, many of those closest to Hernandez from the day he was initially taken into police custody on July 26, 2013 on suspicion of Lloyd’s murder, simply did not believe Hernandez would take his own life.
Others wondered what had happened in the days following his acquittal for the dual homicides of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. What had they missed? Jailers responsible for checking on Aaron Hernandez in his cell around the clock had seen no evidence at all that he was suicidal.
But this should really come as no surprise. After all, many who thought they knew Aaron Hernandez up close and personal never really knew him at all.
Even Bristol (Conn.) County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, the man who initially took Hernandez into custody, could not believe that he would ever kill himself. The longtime lawman was stunned by the news.
Hodgson had good reason to be skeptical, especially when considering the contrast to Hernandez’ demeanor when he was actually convicted of Lloyd’s murder two years earlier – effectively ending life as he had known it.
The problem, it seems, is that everyone was looking for answers in the wrong direction.
Nothing changed for Aaron Hernandez following his acquittal. It appears he was not moved to sacrifice the remainder of his life merely because he was devastated after having his little girl see him in chains in a courtroom for the first time.
Those heartfelt blown kisses to his daughter were so emotionally charged because Aaron Hernandez knew it was the last time he would ever see her.
The decision he’d made to die was back the other way. It was already a done deal by the time little Avielle had to be told she couldn’t simply walk over to her daddy in the courtroom.
According to reports in Boston media and The Daily Mail, sources close to the prison where Aaron Hernandez spent the final years of his life, say he began giving away personal possessions to other inmates weeks ago.
Making sure Jenkins brought their daughter to see him as the verdict was read – in a case Hernandez most assuredly believed would result in a second murder conviction – was only another part of his game plan.
Like just about everybody who heard about Hernandez’ death, I was shocked and grasped at reasons why he might have done it, reasons I still feel involve saving what’s left of his fortune for Jenkins and Avielle, as well as simply having no desire to spend the rest of his life trying to avoid being physically and sexually assaulted in prison.
What I missed, like everyone else, is just how committed Aaron Hernandez truly was to himself.
Being acquitted of a crime he very likely did commit – which did not mean he was not guilty, only that the prosecution failed to prove its case – and leaving this earth with the appearance of innocence in the eyes of his little girl? That was just another cherry on top in a life bereft of any other meaning.
I was fascinated watching Hernandez struggle to control his emotions as the jury verdict was about to be read, realizing that I had never seen anything in his face other than a seeming lack of contrition or lack of care in the hundreds of video clips and news photos over the years. Even then, while he was still alive, something in my brain told me this visage was wrong, but I couldn’t put a finger on it as to why.
Today, in hindsight, it’s crystal clear. As with the days where he starred on the gridiron at the University of Florida, and later, in the NFL with the New England Patriots, you only need to go to the videotape to clearly see Aaron Hernandez knew that his life was almost over. Take another look here.
This leaves us at a disturbing place, because as with most cases involving a recently deceased person, even one with an irredeemable reputation like Aaron Hernandez, we want redemption somewhere, even if we have to squint to see it between the lines.
From this horrible story of a kid with great sports talent born and bred in Bristol, Connecticut, who made it all the way to becoming a highly paid Pro Bowl National Football League player, who devolved into a convicted killer connected to at least six shootings that we know of – we really want to find a glimmer of something good.
It would be comforting to believe that Aaron Hernandez ended things this way so that his fiancée would still have the financial means to provide a life and future for their daughter. We could nod knowingly and whisper, “Well, he wasn’t all bad.” And if there had been a fourth note, this one to police or even one of his victims’ families, expressing regret and admitting all that he’d done, we could have felt a bit better about him.
We need something, hell, anything, to show us that Aaron Hernandez really was at least a little bit like the rest of us, something familiar to convince us that there’s no such thing as a truly evil person.
In the end, though, Aaron Hernandez gave us none of that. In the end, he did what he has done since being emotionally crushed by the unexpected death of his father, Dennis, back in 2006 when he was just 16: he turned inward, kept his secrets to himself.
And he controlled everything around him that could be controlled. He paid millions of dollars for jurisdiction over his lawyers. He used the childhood love that Shayanna Jenkins still maintained for him since they were teens to keep the facade of a sense of love and community in his life, even while behind bars.
The same dominance Aaron Hernandez used to convince Shayanna Jenkins to allegedly remove and dispose of the gun he used to kill Odin Lloyd several years prior, he used to convince her to her bring his child to the courthouse for what turned out to be a final viewing.
Finally, he controlled the ending, releasing himself from prison in the only way he would ever leave.
Now, free from earthly concerns and judgements in death, Aaron Hernandez seems to also be attempting to control the way that we will remember him.
See, it took a lot of planning and attention to detail to end his life the way he did – with the Holy Bible open to the passage containing John 3:16, the very same scripture he scrawled on his forehead:
“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.”
Whether we want to or not, Aaron Hernandez has forced us to consider the image of the fallen child, alone in a jail cell in his final moments, still reaching out for a father figure – even a Heavenly one.
In the end, it even appears that Aaron Hernandez tried to cut a deal with God – offering up his own life as atonement for a lifetime of crimes only he and his maker knew about.
For his sake, I hope God accepted the deal. Or that at least Aaron Hernandez believed He did.
In death, Aaron Hernandez forces us to consider who he was on his own terms, as somehow, possibly even a man of some faith, at least at the end. He compels those of us who believe in such things to consider that maybe even Aaron Hernandez, a man who may have killed many more people than we will ever know, was also eligible for absolution.
Worst of all, though, is that no matter what we think, or which verdict we reach about why he so meticulously planned his death – even spraying the floor with soap so that had he changed his mind, he would not have been able to regain his balance to stop himself from being asphyxiated – we will just never really know.
What kind of mind thinks of details like that?
I’ll give you one guess.
Aaron Hernandez never changed at all. He remained a sociopath until the very end, thumbed his nose at human justice and essentially departed this life with a defiant, “Only God can judge me.”
After all the heartache and pain this man brought to bear on so many lives over 27 years, we are left pretty much right back where we started, asking, “What in the hell happened to Aaron Hernandez?”
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.thetribesports.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/mjtribe.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Michael James has spent more than 20 years in sports journalism as a general assignment reporter with the Detroit News, an NBA beat writer for the New York Daily News and as head writer for ESPN’s Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith.[/author_info] [/author]