Sorrow Over the Death of Aaron Hernandez

            If ever anyone knew how potent a jury’s power to alter a life’s course, it was Aaron Hernandez. He killed himself days after being acquitted of a double murder in Boston. But he had little cause to celebrate the victory. He was sentenced to life behind bars for another murder, the result of another jury’s convicting him.

            I suspect the contrast was more than he could bear.

            Professional athletes live on life’s high wire. They know that reputations are made and lost in an instant. Snag a game-winning pass in overtime in a championship game, and you are a hero, forever. Muff the play, and glory is lost.

            Yet athletes know there is always tomorrow, the next play, the next competition, the next season. Amid hopelessness hope forever remains.

            But life is no game, at least not in the criminal justice system.

            Sure, trial has a sporting aspect to it.

            Lawyers prepare for their contests with the intensity of athletes There is the drama of trial, where a judge, playing the role of referee or umpire, makes sure the rules are followed. And then there is the final inning, the expiration of the clock, the finish line – pick your metaphor. Trials, like games, end. And there are no ties at trial. One side wins, the other loses.

            Only at trial, the athletes are the lawyers.

            Athletes and lawyers play for honor, glory and wealth. But lawyers play with the lives of others. Aaron Hernandez, a former tight end and superstar for the New England Patriots, wasn’t a competitor in his trials. He was the trophy over which others fought. He was a plaything.

            I suspect the role infuriated and terrified him.

            I met with Hernandez after his conviction for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

            Our meeting took place in a holding cell the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts. I had difficulty getting in to see him, and was turned away the first day I appeared. Jailers would not permit visitors, even lawyers, to dress in blue jeans.  This particular pigeon coop had an unusual dress code.

            He had just been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was awaiting trial for the 2012 shootings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. I can’t discuss what we talked about – the attorney-client privilege survives the death of the client. But I can say I was impressed by the fighting spirit within the man. He was Achilles raging at the world. I liked him; I would have liked to have spent more time with him.

            Hernandez is from central Connecticut, my home state. Plenty of people know him here, and share stories about the local boy made good, then turned bad, so horribly bad. A life wasted, people say. Today they will mourn a life gone, vanished. Suicide is always an act of betrayal.

            When I learned Jose Baez had agreed to try the double homicide, my heart sank. I was sure there’d be a conviction. I wasn’t persuaded that Baez’s victory in the Casey Anthony trial was anything other than a fluke. Blaming her father for the death of her child and then not supporting that claim with evidence cost Baez my respect.

            Or was it mere professional jealousy on my part? I am capable, after all, of every form of pettiness.

            When Baez won the Hernandez case, I dropped my pride and sat, simply, in something approaching awe over what Baez had accomplished. He has my respect and admiration now. He walks the walk.

            I can’t help wondering whether in his final moments Hernandez was overcome with regret. What if he had won that first trial? What if better lawyers, a different jury, had delivered a not guilty verdict in that case? It would have taken only two words to change his life’s course.

            I followed the Odin Lloyd trial closely, and a not guilty verdict would not have surprised me. I was surprised by the verdict last week.

            This suicide is a punch to the gut. Achilles stormed to the shore not to rage against Agamemnon, but to end his own life. That’s not how the story is supposed to end.

            But a sense of honor is a fickle master. Suicide is one way of rejecting the cards dealt in the game of life.

            I’ve practiced law for a long time now, and I am no stranger to suicides. Survivors feel regret. What about the call not returned, the letter unsent, the prison visit unmade?

            The haters will take glee in Hernandez’s suicide. A life for a life, they will say. Already, sour wits give thanks for this suicide. Think of the savings to society, I saw one Twitter user exclaim.

            All I can think of is the waste.

            Aaron Hernandez once had it all – youth, fame and fortune. Then he fell into a prison cell. Something called justice told him he’d die in a concrete box, confined until he passed his last breath. I can understand this suicide, even as I struggle to accept it.

            Maybe Hernandez is a murderer. At least one jury thought he was; another had reasonable doubts.

            But I don’t doubt for a moment that savagery killed Aaron Hernandez. Life without possibility of parole is an unbearable weight; our criminal justice system passes out lengthy sentences far too often.

            So the savages won the battle for Aaron Hernandez’s soul this week. The savages wore jailer’s uniforms. Hernandez left the field on a stretcher, never to return. I am sorry he is gone.

Comments (8)
Posted on May 3, 2017 at 3:44 pm by Cantstopthinkingaboutit
Life gone too soon!
It is just not right when young people die. I do not care whatever horrible things that people had accused him. I have doubts that he was a horrible person. We do not know the whole story. It is just not right he died that young.

Posted on May 3, 2017 at 4:10 am by Cantstopthinkingaboutit
Life gone too soon!
It is just not right when young people die. I do not care whatever horrible things that people had accused him. I have doubts that he was a horrible person. We do not know the whole story. It is just not right he died that young.

Posted on April 22, 2017 at 8:42 pm by kahen
I am not NFL fan i don't watch football. But when heard about this mind freaking story I'm still having a had time believing it. A young man who had everything in life ended up in one of the most hi-tech prisons in this nation and now he's dead. He killed himself cuz of regrets. Streets are for hustlers, gangs and drug dealers and they al want money and respect. Something that he had. He had fame money and respect why did he choose that bath? He had the opportunity to chitchat and have a cofee with George Clooney Danzel Washington Tom Hanks Brack Obama and all the well respected people in the world but he choice to mess with street panks.

Posted on April 21, 2017 at 6:47 am by Sally Spooner
Aaron Hernandez
I am not sorry Aaron Hernandez is gone, not even a little bit. I am sorry only that the Aaron Hernandez he could have been is gone. Pick your theory why. I am sorry that the Aaron Hernandez who donated to charity is gone, the one who likely visited children in hospitals, the one with considerable charm to use for good, the one who was once called "a breath of fresh air" the one who kissed Bob Kraft on the cheek as a greeting, the one who would have been a better tight end with year. It's like he and Gronk started somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of wealth and fame and then moved to different ends, Gronk reveling in it to the extreme and Hernandez more ruined by it than he already was. The Aaron Hernandez who could have been was gone before he went to prison, consumed by the Aaron Hernandez who was ruled by drugs, mental illness, rage and terrible judgement. The one who would always have guns. I am not sorry he is gone. Not even a little bit.

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 9:31 am by Yolande Long
Aaron Hernandez
Wonderful article. I had to read and re-read. I was convinced in 2013 that Aaron murdered Odin Lloyd. I looked at the trial everyday, I saw the video and read Odin's last texts to his sister. Aaron was a monster. Something happened when he was sentenced to life without parole. I started feeling sorry for him and for his transition from the life of a star athlete to now a prisoner confined to a jail cell - not ever being able t make choices on what to do or where to go. I watched his latest trial and prayed for a not guilty verdict - even though something inside me screamed out "GUILTY". I saw Aaron's beaming smile to Avielle and Shayanna. When the verdict was read, I felt relief. I saw Aaron's tears and realized that he does have feelings and emotions. When I heard Jose Baez talk positively about the appeal in the Odin Lloyd case - I felt hope that Aaron may be able to be free again to hug his daughter. I will miss Aaron. I have wondered how he wad fairing in jail - he was only 23 when he first went to jail - a baby. I cannot imagine the horror he felt everyday waking up from dreams where he was a free man and realizing he was still confined to a jail cell. I will keep Aaron in my prayers and hope that he is finally at peace..

Posted on April 19, 2017 at 6:50 pm by Jarrod Anderson
Aaron Hernandez
The story is so much more complicated than just squandered talent. I'm really puzzled by the Hernandez suicide, and I can't help but feel like I am missing something here.....it's too bad.

Posted on April 19, 2017 at 7:34 am by Robert A. Booie
Trial of the Damned
Well, by killing Oden Lloyd, Hernandez futzed the Peoples case on his related trial for double murder. Mistakes in the Lloyd trial be damned- Justice was done.

Posted on April 19, 2017 at 7:01 am by Donna Lloyd Ryder
Arron Hernandez
I agree that our "justice system" hands out sentences the way they do. One can only hope that in the future this will change! I would never want to.be on a jury that could possibly send someone to prison for life! I'm not God and unless I saw it with my own eyes it would be far too much for me to bear the responsibility for another persons future. I often wonder how do these jurists feel after handing down verdicts that's could possibly put someone behind bars for the rest of their lives, we are not gods! I know many people would not agree with me on this one. Of course I do think about the victim and their families left behind to mourn, and how they must feel, it is also a life sentence of their own as well.
Thanks for a great article.
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


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