The Meteoric Rise And Tragic Fall Of Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez seemed to have it all. He rose from humble beginnings to NFL stardom, and even signed one of the biggest contracts in football history for a tight end. Playing opposite Rob Gronkowski on the New England Patriots, Hernandez was revolutionizing not only his position, but also how offense could be played. Then, seemingly overnight, his world came crashing down. He couldn’t shake the family drama and violent tendencies that plagued his adolescence and young adult.

September 21, 2017: Full Autopsy Reveals An Answer

aaron hernandez during a game
Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images
Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images

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As the world watched the football star go to court and then prison for life, the truth of what he was dealing with was just below the surface. But time was up, and Aaron Hernandez’s life slipped away on April 19th, 2017. Five months later, on September 21, 2017, a posthumous test revealed an answer as to why Hernandez’s life took a turn for the worst.

Unsurprisingly, Hernandez was suffering from CTE, a common condition among football players. What was surprising, though, was that he was suffering from one of the worst cases of CTE that had ever been seen.

Family Files $20 Million Lawsuit Against NFL

aaron hernandez getting tackled in a game
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

After the findings, Hernandez’s family quickly filed a lawsuit in the Boston federal court. His family asked that the NFL pay Hernandez’s young daughter Avielle $20 million for depriving her of the companionship of her father.

In July of 2019, it was revealed that the lawsuit had been thrown out by a judge and that both sides had settled out of court. Terms of the agreement have been kept private and will not be released to the public.

A Tragic End

aaron hernandez on trial
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It was April 19th, 2017, when Aaron Hernandez was found lifeless in his jail cell. This shocking end for the former athlete came only days after he prevailed in the case in which he was accused.

His conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd was also under appeal. Aaron was once an amazing young athlete, with a promising future of sure stardom and financial success. However, it all came crashing down with dramatic family relations and a penchant for violence.

Unanswered Questions

aaron hernandez press conference
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Aaron’s lawyer José Baez publicly commented on Aaron’s death and said that he and the family did not believe Aaron would have ended his own life. He further stated that he was “determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death” and that “Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence.”

It was also reported that Aaron was found with the Bible verse John 3:16 scrawled across his forehead. The verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Romance Behind Bars

aaron hernandez from behind
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Aaron was held in a seven-by-ten-foot cell in the special management unit, away from other prisoners, due to his high profile of being a professional athlete. However, when they found his body, they saw that he left three letters behind. One letter was addressed to his young daughter, another to his fiancée, and supposedly, another to an inmate at the prison.

The Daily Mail reports that sources close to Aaron’s investigation say he was possibly romantically involved with another male inmate at the prison. That inmate was also the last person who he spoke to.

Secret Prison Boyfriend

aaron hernandez answering questions during his trial
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Aaron penned three letters to be opened after his end. One was addressed to his fiancée, Shayanna. Another to his four-year-old daughter, Avielle. The third was addressed to a man named Kyle Kennedy — a 22-year-old fellow inmate at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Kennedy was rumored to be Aaron Hernandez’s secret lover. For his eventual release from prison, Hernandez had bought Kennedy a $47,000 custom watch. The letter to him was also written in “prison language.”

A History of Secrets

aaron hernandez and tom brady
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

According to a report done by Newsweek, one of Hernandez’s co-defendants in the Lloyd trial, Ernest Wallace, knew about the NFL player’s double life. Wallace claims that Hernandez had a long-time relationship with another man, a man whom he’d known since high school.

Supposedly, Odin Lloyd also found out about the relationship during one of their many nights out clubbing together. Lloyd allegedly mocked Hernandez for the relationship and threatened to reveal the relationship to Hernandez’s fiancée, who was the sister of his own girlfriend at the time.

Striking a Nerve

a picture of ernest wallace
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Wallace testified in court that Hernandez was the one who pulled the trigger on Lloyd. What he didn’t mention during the trial was Hernandez’s secret relationships, the one he kept hidden to everyone else in his life.

In the hyper-masculine world of professional sports, particularly football, Hernandez may have gone to any lengths in order to conceal his identity from the public. Though Hernandez also had a long history of violence and substance problems, the revelation of his preferences could have cost him the respect of his fans and his teammates, not to mention his lucrative contract and football career altogether.

Clues from the Past

aaron hernandez running away from a defender
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

There’s other evidence that Hernandez may have harbored a secret relationship, too. Shortly before his arrest, Hernandez moved large amounts of money out of his personal banking account.

Once again, there were three notable transactions: one lump sum went to his fiancée, another transfer went into his daughter’s bank funds, and the third went to his high school friend. In fact, that male friend received larger amounts of money from Hernandez than either his daughter or fiancée. Was the former Patriots’ star leading a double life throughout his entire football career?

Too Little Too Late

aaron hernandez catches a touchdown during the super bowl
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

A night guard is usually assigned to make rounds on all the prisoners at 2 a.m. Hernandez was not discovered until 3:03 a.m., at which point the correctional officer on duty attempted to resuscitate him.

He was transported to UMass Leominster hospital, but by that point, it was, of course, already too late. That night officer on duty has since been placed on leave until further notice for neglect of his duties.

So Who Is Kyle Kennedy?

kyle kennedy letter
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Kennedy is the son of a businessman and a native of Uxbridge, a Massachusetts town near the Rhode Island border less than 50 miles from the prison where he is now incarcerated. In 2012, when Kennedy would have still been a teenager, he was arrested for trafficking substances and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Then just a year later, he was arrested for possession again and served another full year in prison. Documents from the court proceedings at the time show that Kennedy’s own father, 42-year-old Matthew Kennedy, accused him of being an addict.

A Troubled Mind

george leontire reperesented the Hernandez family
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

No matter their relationship, Aaron Hernandez’s shocking ending has greatly affected his family and loved ones outside of the prison, too. George Leontire, Hernandez’s attorney, told media outlets in 2017 that he was preparing to file a lawsuit against Massachusetts officials for negligence.

Hernandez’s family made the difficult decision to donate Aaron’s brain to science. CTE can only be diagnosed in a person after their passing. As you know, it was determined the Hernandez has one of the most severe cases of CTE ever seen.

What Will Happen With Hernandez’s Appeal?

aaron hernandez looks down
Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In the end, Aaron Hernandez may end up as an innocent man after all. That is, at least in the eyes of the law. Even though Hernandez was found guilty, his conviction was still in the long process of court appeals at the time of his death.

Under a Massachusetts legal tenet called abatement ab initio, Hernandez’s trial will be considered “unfinished” — and therefore he’ll be considered innocent until proven guilty. It just proves that even after his death, the tragic roller coaster ride of Aaron Hernandez’s life shows no signs of slowing down.

Letter to Fiancée Released

@7News/Twitter
@7News/Twitter

On May 5th, 2017 the Massachusetts Court released one of the letters that Hernandez left behind. The letter was addressed to his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, in which he told her that she is his soul mate, and assured her that his death was the work of God.

He also quoted popular music group Savage Garden, writing “I knew I loved you” and telling Shay that she will be rich once he’s gone.

2013 Murder Conviction Erased

judge susan garsh
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Finally, on May 9th, 2017 things began to look up for Aaron Hernandez’ fiancée, daughter and loved ones when Judge Susan Garsh announced that the 2013 murder conviction would be erased from Hernandez’s record. The announcement was given after officials determined that he could not be charged in the case after his life ended.

As shown in his letter to his fiancée, and questions he asked inmates before his death on the technicalities, Hernandez believed that if he ended himself during the appeals process, the New England Patriots would have to pay out the rest of his contract, which was estimated at $6.5 million, to his dependents.

Humble Beginnings

aaron hernandez scores a touchdown in college
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Aaron Hernandez was born into humble beginnings. His parents worked hard to provide everything he and his older brother Jonathan needed. When the boys were still in grade school, their parents were finally able to get their first home.

Their father, Dennis, was a custodian, and their mother, Terri, was an administrative assistant at an elementary school. Jonathan recalled how hard their father worked to provide for the family. He told Sports Illustrated, “My dad worked his [expletive] off. His paycheck went to the family. Everything. Anything extra, he had to work overtime for.” However, as hard-working as their family was, you still couldn’t take everything at face value.

Desire for More

terri hernandez in court
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While the Hernandez boys’ parents provided them with everything they needed, they weren’t always able to afford everything they wanted. Older brother Jonathan said they were often upset because they couldn’t afford what the other kids had, for instance, the latest fashions at Abercrombie & Fitch.

However, one day the desire for more and the repercussions came back to bite the family. One evening after school, the boys came home to the police in their home. It turns out their mother, Terri, was involved with a gambling operation.

A Mother’s Crime

terri hernandez at home
Christopher Evans/Getty Images
Christopher Evans/Getty Images

The elder Hernandez, Jonathan, said his mother committed the crime to be able to give him and Aaron what they wanted. Jonathan told Sports Illustrated, “This woman did this because I was crying every single night. She didn’t do it for the thrill. She didn’t do it to pocket the money. She did it to provide for me and Aaron.”

It seems that it was the desire for more that drove Aaron to become even more driven for success. However, the arrest also came at a price for the boys, who were later mocked at school by classmates after the incident was mentioned in the local newspaper.

Young Athletic Promise

aaron hernandez thumping his chest
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

During the same time period of their familial struggles, both Hernandez boys – but especially Aaron – became known for their athletic prowess. He played a variety of sports growing up including basketball and, of course, his beloved football. He was already known as an amazing athlete by the very early age of eight.

Aaron’s father, Dennis, was also often the coach of his two sons. Although people remember Dennis as an imposing “military-esque” figure and coach, he was also known to be extremely nice and friendly off the court. However, it seems while Aaron inherited his dad’s intimidating demeanor, he definitely didn’t inherit his geniality.

A Terrifying Player

aaron hernandez avoids a tackle in college
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Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jake O’Donnell, a sportswriter who grew up in the same area as Aaron Hernandez, recalled playing against him in basketball games as a child. Jake recalled, in an article for Sports Grid, Aaron being only eight years old but playing against boys older than him. However, his younger age didn’t stop him from being an absolutely terrifying figure on the court.

After getting pummeled during a game, Jake recalled eight-year-old Aaron calling him a “snowflake”. And later, after Jake got emotional from the difficult game, Aaron told him to “get the [expletive] out of here.”

A Catastrophic Loss

aaron hernandez getting out of a car
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

In 2006, Aaron was 16-years-old. That was the year that seemed to turn his life completely upside down. After having routine hernia surgery, Aaron’s father Dennis died from unexpected complications. In 2009, Aaron recalled to USA Today Sports the unexpected loss of his father, saying that the aftermath “was a mess with a lot of family issues, fighting, and disagreements.”

His mother was also quoted in the article saying, “I didn’t know what to do for him. He would rebel. It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry. He wasn’t the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger.”

A Remarkable Ball Player

aaron hernandez catching a football
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Originally, Aaron committed to play at the University of Connecticut, where his brother also played, but later switched to play for the University of Florida. He was immediately recognized as an excellent player and started three games for the Florida Gators as a freshman. In 2009, the Gators won their second BCS championship in three seasons.

That same year he was awarded the John Mackey Award, which is an award given to the nation’s best tight end. He also received other impressive titles like first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and a first-team All-American. At the completion of his college career, Aaron had some nice statistics under his belt. He finished with 111 receptions for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Complicated Family Ties

terri hernandez watches her son on trial
Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Despite his success in football, Aaron had a lot of drama going on behind the scenes. The loss of his father was not the only familial blow that Aaron took. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, while Aaron’s father was still alive, his mother had begun cheating on him with a man named Jeffrey “Meathead” Cummings.

Jeffrey also happened to be married to Dennis’ niece, Tanya. The affair allegedly began not long after she was acquitted in the gambling case. At some point, the family attended a football game to watch Aaron’s older brother play for the University of Connecticut.

Family Drama

terri hernandez at a funeral
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Tanya allegedly approached Terri over the affair. Aaron watched his mother get attacked by Tanya, which according to Rolling Stone “hurt Aaron bad and broke his heart.” After his father, Dennis, passed away, his mother moved in with Jeffrey. Terri and Jeffrey later married in Las Vegas, and Aaron decided to focus on his college football career rather than attend the wedding.

One year later, in 2010, police were called after Jeffrey attacked Terri. He was arrested and spent two years in jail, during which time they got divorced. The two reportedly got back together after his release, but as of 2013 are said to have permanently split.

From College to Pro

aaron hernandez smiling during a game
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

While all of his family drama was going on behind the scenes, Aaron was still having an amazingly successful college football career. And like many other young ballplayers before him, he decided to forgo his senior year and enter the 2010 NFL Draft. He was drafted in the fourth round by the New England Patriots. He signed a four-year contract, which had some stipulations to attempt to keep him on the “straight and narrow.”

In 2010, he started the season as the youngest player in the NFL for any active roster. In 2011, he was a Pro Bowl alternate and in the Super Bowl even scored a touchdown. In 2012, he signed a contract extension which was to last until 2018. His signing bonus was $12.5 million, which was the largest ever given to an NFL tight end. The total of his extension, $40 million, was the second-largest ever.

Striving for Normalcy

shayanna jenkins with her daughter
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Aaron seemed to be set to make a more normal family life for himself. He met his girlfriend Shayanna Jenkins in elementary school, although the two did not become a couple until 2007. In 2012, the two found out they were going to become parents and were expecting their first child – a daughter.

Aaron proposed to Shayanna the same day as her baby shower, although the two would never get married. Despite never officially being married, Shayanna took Aaron’s last name. The two named their daughter Avielle Hernandez. He promised to curb his wild ways, although the promise seemed to be too much for the embattled football star.

The Wrong Crowd

aaron hernandez in a suit
John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Despite all of Aaron’s successes, there were some things he just couldn’t shake. Aaron continued to hang around people who were less-than-desirable friends, especially considering he had purchased a brand new $1.5 million home.

According to friends who spoke with Rolling Stone magazine, Aaron surrounded himself with gangster types including Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz. He also used illegal substances regularly. He became more and more paranoid and even carried a weapon with him wherever he went.

Odin Lloyd

odin llyod hernandez trial
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Aaron met a new friend through his fiancée Shayanna’s sister Shaneah. Shaneah was dating Odin Lloyd, who was a semi-professional football player. At first, the two couples would go out together. Later, the sisters would spend time together and the two men would go off to have wild nights out at the club.

In June of 2013, the wild partying came to an abrupt end. Odin Lloyd was murdered on June 17th, 2013. Almost immediately, the friendship between the Odin and Aaron came under massive speculation from the authorities.

“NFL”

aaron hernandez on the patriots
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Very early on the morning of June 17, Odin Lloyd texted his sister asking, “Did you see who I am with?” His sister responded, “NFL”, a reference to Aaron. Odin responded one last time, “Just so you know.”

At the time his sister thought that Odin was bragging about his acquaintance, however, the messages were later taken as an indication that he was fearing for his life. Odin was a passenger in Aaron’s car at the time and his body would be found only a short time later.

The Arrest of a Star

aaron hernandez bows after scoring a touchdown
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Aaron Hernandez, the boy who had risen from humble beginnings to one of the most promising tight ends in the NFL, was arrested. He was charged and held without bail. His two friends, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace were also arrested. Prosecutors highlighted that Aaron’s DNA was found at the scene of the crime.

The defense claimed that while Aaron was present, he was an unwilling participant and a “23-year-old kid who witnessed something.” In 2015, the jury returned a guilty verdict on all charges and sentenced Aaron to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Family Left Behind

shayanna jenkins in court
Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

As soon as the crime took place Shaneah, Odin’s girlfriend took solace in her sister Shayanna. Shaneah drove to the mansion owned by Aaron and was greeted by her sister with a huge hug. However, throughout the trial, Shayanna pledged her loyalty to Aaron. A wedge was driven between the two sisters.

Shayanna was also charged in connection with the crime after it came to light that shortly after Aaron had her retrieve a box and dispose of it. Aaron’s arrest also left his younger daughter Avielle behind without a father present in her life.

A Second Crime?

aaron hernandez and rob gronkowski
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In 2014, it was revealed that Aaron was subject of interest in the deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Aaron was also mentioned as a person of interest in multiple other violent crimes stemming all the way back to 2007, including a 2007 bar fight where he ruptured the eardrum of a restaurant manager.

In May of 2014, Aaron was indicted on charges in the de Abreu and Furtado case. The trial finally began in March of 2017. On April 14, 2017, Aaron was found not guilty. However, he was still imprisoned for the death of Odin Lloyd and was in the process of an appeal.

José Baez

jose baez attorney
Raymond Hall/GC Images
Raymond Hall/GC Images

Oddly enough, Aaron Hernandez had an unwitting connection to disgraced mother Casey Anthony. Casey’s attorney, José Baez, who famously got her off murder charges of her daughter Caylee, also took up the case of Aaron Hernandez. It was this trial that catapulted him to nationwide notoriety and more than likely brought him to the attention of Aaron.

He was working on the appeal of Aaron’s conviction. He also defended Aaron in the double charges of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Baez was able to secure a legal win for Aaron with the not guilty verdict in the double murder.

He Blew a Kiss to His Daughter

aaron hernandez blows kiss to his daughter
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Although his fiancée and daughter didn’t make it to the courtroom every day at the Suffolk County Court House Aaron appeared, he was able to see them both April 12th. Without the possibility of parole, this would be one of the last opportunities four-year-old Avielle would see her father dressed in clothes other than inmates’ garb. Aaron smiled when he saw her.

His fiancée Shayanna said his daughter had been begging to see him. Sadly, it would be the last time Avielle would ever see her father again.

Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez Welcomes a Baby Girl

Photo Credit: @TheBostonGlobe / Twitter
Photo Credit: @TheBostonGlobe / Twitter

On June 25, 2018, sources close to the family revealed that Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez gave birth to a baby girl earlier in the month. While rumors swirled that Aaron Hernandez was the biological father of the baby, this has been determined false.

The father of Shayanna’s daughter is amateur boxer, Dino Guilmette, from Providence, Rhode Island. Until May 2018, Shayanna kept her pregnancy a secret until finally revealing on social media that she was expecting, saying, “I couldn’t be a luckier woman to have such a perfect little girl that’s prepared to become the best big sister, and even more blessed to welcome another babygirl to our home.”

Netflix Released A Documentary In Early 2020

aaron hernandez catching a football
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In early 2020 Aaron Hernandez was in the news again when Netflix released Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. The three part series was an instant hit for the streaming service and shed new light on the life of the embattled athlete.

While the documentary doesn’t include any new information on the life of Hernandez, it does highlight lesser known aspects of his life. At one point a man who claims to have had an intimate relationship with Hernandez is interviewed.