By: Don Porcaro
On April 19th, former New England Patriots star Tight End Aaron Hernandez was found dead in a Massachusetts Maximum Security Prison. Correction officers from Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts found Hernandez hanging from bedsheets from his window in his cell. This coming just days after he was acquitted of a 2012 Boston double homicide. Hernandez was also convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd. However, because of an obscure Massachusetts law called “Abatement Ab Initio” or “From the beginning", Hernandez will go to the grave an innocent man.
In the Lloyd case, all legal appeals have not been exhausted, therefore the case goes back to the beginning. This creates an interesting scenario where not only does the Lloyd family receive no closure, but his former employer, the New England Patriots owe the family of Hernandez fifteen million dollars because there was no breach in his contract when released.
When Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was asked about the strange state law, she responded “I do not see a need to change it”, however is “certainly open to the discussion and open to learning more”. A man once thought of as a murderer of at least three men is now going to the grave completely innocent and his family will be paid fifteen million dollars. Per the 5th amendment, the United States lives under the process of law, or famously “innocent until proven guilty.” However, in Hernandez case’ he was proven guilty. Because he went to the grave with a chance to appeal, he will be considered an innocent man. This leaves an interesting question so far left unanswered. Did Hernandez beat the system knowing this law? If Hernandez was planning on committing suicide, this would have been the only time he could do it while going to the grave an innocent man and receiving the money for his fiancee and daughter.
Although this law creates no closure for the family and friends of the victim, there is an even more concerning problem in this story. Massachusetts prisons have the fourth highest rate of suicide in the country. A statistic that not even the Massachusetts Attorney General knew was that high. “I wasn't aware that we were fourth in the country” stated Healey. Hernandez was on high security watch at all times, yet was left unchecked from 8 p.m., to 3 a.m. that night according to reports from CBS Boston. Security admitted to missing the 2 a.m. check time, and found Hernandez dead at the next hourly check time at 3 a.m.. Although she was not aware of the statistic until the death of Hernandez, Healy was very concerned about the situation. “I want to understand what it is that happened here. But more broadly what it is that’s happening across our prison system and what do we need to change if anything in terms of policies and practices” said Healey.
Although Hernandez was the most high profile suicide in the Massachusetts state prisons, there have been many cases similar to this. His death has certainly brought awareness to the issue and has left many questions as to why the rate is so high. When asked about the extremely high suicide rate in the state prisons, one former Massachusetts correctional officer said the main problem is the prisons are “overcrowded and understaffed.” In the 2015 Massachusetts Prison Population Report, it showed that many prisons, including MCI-Cedar Junction Maximum Security Prison in South Walpole, MA, where Hernandez was originally placed, had a bigger ADP (average daily population), than Operational Capacity. Although the prison Hernandez was found in (Souza Baranowski Correctional Center) was not one of the overpopulated prisons on the report, many other prisons in Massachusetts fall into that category. These official statistics can be found on mass.Gov under “Prison Population Trends”.
Other concerns could be Hernandez simply knew the routines of the officers and picked a certain time to hang himself. This could be caused due to lack of staff around these prisons. Healey however is very concerned not only about the Aaron Hernandez case, but about the statistic of suicide rates across the state. “Anytime anyone dies in custody, it’s concerning” Healey stated. “The way I look at it is, we have to have a system, where people go to jail, go to prison, they’re in the care and custody of the state and it’s up to the state to ensure the right measures are taken. .. their safety, their security is really important.”
Along with the finding of Hernandez, officers found three suicide notes alongside his bed. They also found the door stuffed with cardboard along with a soapy-water covered floor to keep officers out of his cell. This was not the first time Hernandez did this however. In 2015, he was accused of tampering with a locking device as well as hanging a shower curtain across his doorway which blocked the view of his cell, according to CNN. As soon as the suicide notes were found, rumors swirled of a possible note to a “gay lover” from Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Hernandez’ lawyer has since came out and said this claim was false.
Two of the notes are still being kept private and have not been released to the public. There was however, a piece of Hernandez’ first note to his wife that has been released to the public by the court. The part that seems to stick out most in the letter was the ending, where Hernandez wrote in parentheses (You’re Rich.) This raises some questions of the reason for the suicide. Hernandez saying his wife is rich backs up the popular theory that Hernandez killed himself knowing his family would be owed millions of dollars. Also in the note, Hernandez wrote “I told you what was coming indirectly!”. Early reports of the case said Hernandez showed no signs of a potential suicide before his death. This also questions the authenticity of those claims as Hernandez is openly admitting he had plans to kill himself. It still remains a mystery as to how long he had these plans for. When asked about this prior to the release of the first note, Healey said “I would assume the family would be open to making (the notes) public….but ultimately that’s up to them.”
The Patriots, commonly know for bending but not breaking the rules, have seemed to find every loophole in an NFL rulebook. With this being said, it seems Aaron Hernandez brought the “Patriot Way” of finding loopholes into the Massachusetts legal system. It seemed he found a law that few people even knew about and used it ironically against the same organization that had used it to their advantage for so many years. Hernandez, in his last act before death, used this law to give his family fifteen million dollars to go forward with their lives. With his death, Hernandez has brought to awareness a faulty law in the Massachusetts legal system, and also an alarming rate of suicide victims in state prisons. With this one death, it has shown that something needs to change both in Massachusetts prisons, as well as the State Laws. However, this man should not be glorified for his actions. It should not have taken a suicide of a former Boston athlete to realize major issues in the State Prison System. These issues are real, and they need to be solved.
Photo: (The Six Thirty) (MassLive)