On June 26th, 2013, former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was arrested at his home in North Attlebourgh, Massachusetts for his role in the murder of his former friend, the 27 year old Odin Lloyd. Lloyd’s body was found on the morning of June 17, 2013 in an industrial park by a jogger. The park is just minutes away from Hernandez’s house.
Police know through interviews and text messages sent by Lloyd that Hernandez was with Lloyd on the night of his death. Police also know though surveillance footage at the industrial park that the silver rental car Hernandez was driving that night did enter the facility at 3:23am, and then drove to an area not covered by cameras. A few minutes later, the car is seen leaving the area. On September 26, 2013, one of Hernandez’s accomplices also testified that Hernandez and Lloyd exited the car together at the park, and only Hernandez returned. Security tapes at Hernandez’s house also show Hernandez and a friend entering Hernandez’s house minutes after the estimated time of death, wielding guns. They proceeded to turn off the home surveillance system and deleted about six hours of footage. Charged with first-degree murder, Hernandez pleaded not guilty. If convicted of Lloyd’s murder, Hernandez will face the penalty of life in prison.
Hernandez in early June, before his arrest, was considered one of the brightest stars in the NFL.
Hernandez burst onto the football scene as early as high school, totaling 3,437 receiving yards, 157 catches, and 47 touchdowns at Bristol Central High School. In 2005, he set the Connecticut state record for receiving yards in a season with 1,807 yards. And in the same year, he also set the single-game receiving record for the state with 376 yards. His success continued in college, where he grabbed 111 receptions, 1,382 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns at Florida University, in a highly competitive SEC conference.
Before the 2010 NFL draft, his talent was widely considered first-round caliber. But, he slipped down to the 4th round. In Hernandez’s 2010 draft profile, red flags popped up after a psychological test was administered by Dr. Mike Sanders, a partner at a North Carolina scouting service called Human Resource Tactics, and an adjunct professor in the psychology department at North Carolina State University. Hernandez scored a 1 out of 10–the lowest score possible–on “Social Maturity.” Also, in a section labeled “Weaknesses,” Hernandez was described as “living on the edge of acceptable behavior.” Sanders warned that Hernandez could act in a way that would harm his team.
There had also been whispers while Hernandez was still at Florida University that he was a clubhouse liability, and had many bouts with the police off the field. Mike Brown, the general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals, told Fox Sports Ohio that the Bengals would never have taken Hernandez due to character issues. Bill Polian, former general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, told the Wall Street Journal that his team was looking for a tight end at the 2010 draft, but steered clear of Hernandez. “There were questions there, which is why a guy of that talent lasted until the fourth round.”
Nevertheless, Hernandez was taken in the draft by the New England Patriots, and had enjoyed a successful and uneventful NFL career until his arrest for Lloyd’s murder. On August 27, 2012, the Patriots rewarded Hernandez with a 5-year, $40 million contract extension. “You get changed by the Patriots way,’’ Hernandez said to reporters after the deal was made. After just his third season in the NFL, he and fellow young tight end Rob Gronkowski were being heralded as one of the best receiving duos in the league.
Immediately following his arrest, the same day, the Patriots cut Hernandez from their roster. Florida stripped their campus of any pictures or memorabilia that contained Hernandez’s likeness. Hernandez also lost all his sponsorships, including ones from Puma and CytoSport.
Where, then, in Hernandez’s life did things start to unravel for the promising football player? The key to the mystery begins with his father.
Hernandez’s father, Dennis Hernandez, in his day was also a three-sport star athlete, and went on to play football for the University of Connecticut. For many years, Dennis was the hometown hero in Bristol, CT, loved by all, even nicknamed “The King” for his local fame in town. And most importantly, he was a great father for his kids, DJ and Aaron. DJ, the elder son, followed his father’s path to UConn, where he too played football and earned a master’s degree in school counseling.
Aaron was closest to his father. Denis mentored Aaron though high school, keeping him focused on studies and not letting the hype of football fame corrupt him. Needless to say, when Dennis passed away abruptly due to complications during a routine surgery, Hernandez was in shock. “Everyone was close to my father, but I was the closest,’’ he told USA Today in 2009. “When that happened, who do I talk to? Who do I hang with? It was tough.’’ Jordan Carello, a high school friend and football teammate said his father’s death, “ate him alive,’’ and that, “He wasn’t as outgoing. He wouldn’t really talk. You could tell he was devastated.’’ Hernandez was left with a gaping hole in his life, and he chose to fill it with the wrong group of people.
Many of Hernandez’s old acquaintances say that he started to hang around a much rougher crowd in Bristol after the death of his father. During his days at Florida, many teammates noted that Hernandez always went out with his Bristol friends, and when Hernandez committed to the NFL, those encounters become more frequent. During this time period, his two closest Bristol friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, were arrested for a plethora of crimes, including assault. Ironically, these two men are also the key witnesses to Hernandez’s trial, as they were the only other people present at the scene of the crime.
Also in the immediate aftermath of Hernandez arrest, other stories of his close-encounters have emerged. In 2012, Hernandez was suspected in a double-homicide outside a Boston nightclub. The victims, Danny Abreu and Safiro Furtado, and their two friends left the club and were waiting in their car at a stoplight, when an SUV pulled alongside them and opened fire on the car. Abreu and Furtado were killed, while the friends escaped with minor injuries. Police know Hernandez was at the club the night of the shooting, but investigators lacked evidence to pin down Hernandez. However, on October 1, 2013, one of the friends, who wished to remain anonymous, told FOX 25 that he recognizes Hernandez’s face as the shooter from that night. In a separate case, a man charged Hernandez with shooting him and then “pushing him out of the car and leaving him for dead” in Florida. The man received multiple gunshot wounds, including one in his eye. He was found alone in front of a retail store. The case is classified as inactive.
Hernandez’s attorneys asked the public not to jump to conclusions, but with the mounds of circumstantial evidence the prosecution has against him, and his double life of danger now exposed, things do not look promising for Hernandez. “A lot of guys come into the NFL haunted by the past,’’ said Tully Banta-Cain, Hernandez’s Patriots teammate in 2010, to the Boston Globe. “Some guys overcome it and some continue to be haunted throughout their careers if they’re not able to disassociate themselves from certain people or certain atmospheres. Aaron may have fallen victim to that.’’