Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez hanged himself Wednesday in the prison cell where he was serving a life sentence for murder, taking his life on the same day his ex-teammates on the New England Patriots were set to visit the White House to mark their Super Bowl victory.
Hernandez, 27, was found by guards in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley just after 3 a.m., Department of Correction spokesman Christopher Fallon said in a statement. Officers found him while conducting a regular hourly round in the unit, CBS Boston reports.
The former Patriots tight end was pronounced dead at UMass Memorial-HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster about an hour later.
Hernandez had been housed in a single cell in a general population unit at the maximum-security state prison in Shirley. He tied one end of a bedsheet to a window and tried to jam the cell door to prevent guards from opening it, Fallon said.
He said he’s not aware of any suicide note left by Hernandez, but stressed that the investigation is ongoing.
Fallon said officials had no concern that Hernandez was planning on taking his own life, and Hernandez would have been transferred to a mental health unit if there was any concern about his well-being.
In a statement, Hernandez’s attorney Jose Baez said that the former athlete’s family was “shocked and surprised” by news of his death.
“There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible,” Baez said.
Just last week, Hernandez was moved to tears when he was acquitted of murder charges in the shooting deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in July 2012, which prosecutors said were fueled by his anger over a drink spilled at a nightclub.
Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in June 2013. Prosecutors suggested Lloyd may have been killed to keep him quiet about the 2012 Boston killings.
Hernandez was convicted of killing Lloyd in 2015, but the conviction could be thrown out following his death due to an obscure legal doctrine in Massachusetts law known as “abatement ab initio.” The law states that a conviction can be vacated if the defendant dies before exhausting all legal appeals. Such a move would have implications for civil proceedings against Hernandez’s estate, according to CBS Boston.
Hernandez’s death was “a shocking and sad end to a very tragic series of events that has negatively impacted a number of families,” said Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn, who prosecuted Hernandez in the Lloyd case.
As the jury was deliberating last week, cameras spied Hernandez blowing kisses to the young daughter he fathered with fiancée Shayanna Jenkins. Cameras captured the exchange.
Hernandez’s body was turned over to the state medical examiner’s office, reports CBS Boston. The medical examiner will conduct an autopsy in Boston on Wednesday, authorities said.
Despite helping the University of Florida win the 2008 NCAA championship, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of misbehavior in college.
But he was a productive tight end for the Patriots for three seasons, catching 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in his second year to help the team reach the Super Bowl. In 2012, he signed a five-year, $40 million contract extension.
The team released him in June 2013, shortly after he was arrested for the Lloyd killing.
The Patriots were scheduled to go to the White House Wednesday to be greeted by President Trump and mark their latest Super Bowl win. Team spokesperson Stacey James said the Patriots were aware of the reports of Hernandez’s death but didn’t anticipate commenting Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.