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At the end, Hernandez thought of family, not football

  • Attorneys Jose Baez, left, and Ronald Sullivan, outside the state medical examiner’s office, Thursday, in Boston. ap photo

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, March 15, 2017, file photo, Defendant Aaron Hernandez listens during his double murder trial in Suffolk Superior Court, in Boston. Massachusetts prison officials said Hernandez hanged himself in his cell and pronounced dead at a hospital early Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, Pool, File) Elise Amendola

  • In this Dec. 12, 2005 photo, Aaron Hernandez poses for a photo in Bristol, Conn. Hernandez, a former NFL star, who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction and Friday, April 14, 2017, was acquitted of a double murder, died after hanging himself at the prison early Wednesday, April 19, 2017, Massachusetts prisons officials said. (Patrick Raycraft/Hartford Courant via AP) PATRICK RAYCRAFT

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, April 12, 2017, file photo, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, fiancee of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, sits in the courtroom with the couple's daughter during jury deliberations in Hernandez's double-murder trial at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. Hernandez was acquitted of those crimes on Friday, but hanged himself in his prison early Wednesday, April 19, 2017, where he was serving a life sentence in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. (Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool, File) Keith Bedford

  • FILE - In this Sunday Jan. 1, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) tries to break free of Buffalo Bills linebacker Chris Kelsay (90) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction and just days ago was acquitted of a double murder, died after hanging himself in his prison cell Wednesday, April 19, 2017, Massachusetts prisons officials said. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) Elise Amendola

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez puts on a Super Bowl cap following the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass. Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction and just days ago was acquitted of a double murder, died after hanging himself in his prison cell Wednesday, April 19, 2017, Massachusetts prisons officials said. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File) Winslow Townson

  • FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, file photo, former New England Patriots NFL football player Aaron Hernandez is led into his court appearance at the Fall River Superior Court in Fall River, Mass. Massachusetts prison officials said Hernandez hanged himself in his cell and was pronounced dead at a hospital early Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (Matt Stone/The Boston Herald via AP, Pool, File) Matt Stone

  • FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008, file photo, the Florida Gators, from left, Aaron Hernandez (81), Louis Murphy (9) and Butch Rowley (37) celebrate after receiving the SEC Championship Trophy following a 31-20 win over top-ranked Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship NCAA college football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction and just days ago was acquitted of a double murder, died after hanging himself in his prison cell Wednesday, April 19, 2017, Massachusetts prisons officials said. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File) Dave Martin

  • In this Sept. 13, 2006 photo, Bristol Central tight end Aaron Hernandez runs up the field after a reception in practice in Bristol, Conn. Hernandez, a former NFL star who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction and Friday, April 14, 2017, was acquitted of a double murder, died after hanging himself at the prison early Wednesday, April 19, 2017, Massachusetts prisons officials said. (Bob MacDonnell/Hartford Courant via AP) BOB MACDONNELL

  • Aaron Hernandez, when he was a high school tight end in Bristol, Conn., in Sept. 2006. ap file photo



Associated Press
Thursday, April 20, 2017

BOSTON — Family, not football, dominated Aaron Hernandez’s final hours as a lifer in prison.

As the hour of his death approached, the former NFL star chatted on the phone with his longtime fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez. Authorities say the pair stayed on the phone until the 8 p.m. lockdown at the maximum-security prison where he was serving a life sentence for murder.

Alone in his cell, the ex-New England Patriots tight end scribbled three notes. He laid them carefully next to a Bible.

Then he turned his bedsheet into a noose and hanged himself.

Those cryptic details emerged Thursday as authorities ruled Hernandez’s death a suicide and turned his body over to a funeral home so his family could lay him to rest.

Investigators wouldn’t say what Hernandez’s handwritten notes said. But they said they were satisfied he died at his own hand, and they said his brain would be donated to sports concussion researchers, ending a brief public dispute over its custody.

Authorities said the medical examiner had ruled Hernandez’s cause of death was asphyxia by hanging and investigators had found the notes and Bible in Hernandez’s cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Authorities previously said Hernandez had not left a suicide note and he hadn’t been on suicide watch.

“There were no signs of a struggle, and investigators determined that Mr. Hernandez was alone at the time of the hanging,” the Worcester County district attorney’s office said in a statement.

Hernandez had been locked into his cell at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, and no one entered the cell until a guard saw him just after 3 a.m. and forced his way in because cardboard had been jammed into the door track to impede entry, authorities said. Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet and was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead an hour later.

Attorney Jose Baez said the family had arranged for researchers at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to take custody of the brain. The center studies a progressive degenerative brain disease found in some athletes.

Baez declined to say whether he or the family believed brain damage from Hernandez’s playing days led him to kill himself.

“We’re not suggesting anything,” he said. “You go where the evidence takes you. We need to examine every aspect of this case.”

It may never be clear why Hernandez would kill himself just days after he was cleared of two additional murder charges.

He had been serving a life sentence without parole for the 2013 slaying of a onetime friend, Odin Lloyd. But during his trial for the killings of two men in 2012, he appeared upbeat, backslapping his lawyers, letting out bellowing laughs and blowing kisses to his 4-year-old daughter and other family members.

The former standout died five days after a jury acquitted him in those two deaths, which prosecutors alleged were precipitated by one of the men accidentally spilling a drink on Hernandez at a Boston nightclub.

His suicide left friends, family and his legal team in disbelief as many searched for an explanation to the tragic end of a young man whose football skills earned him a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the NFL’s top franchise. Hernandez’s older brother, Jonathan “DJ” Hernandez, meanwhile, took to Facebook on Thursday to wish his mother, Terri Hernandez, happy birthday.

“I know if Aaron was here one more day he would have said he loves you,” he wrote. “Keep smiling because I know Aaron and Dad are both smiling down on you (and) us right now.”