This weekend, Oxygen is airing a two-part documentary about the troubled life of Aaron Hernandez, an NFL rising star who was convicted of murder and took his own life in prison nearly a year ago — just after he was found not guilty at his second murder trial.
“Aaron Hernandez Uncovered” focuses heavily on the death investigation of Odin Lloyd, who was found dead on June 17, 2013, not far from Hernandez’s home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. While the circumstantial evidence against Hernandez was overwhelming, investigators never found a murder weapon, leaving open — for some — the possibility that a jury convicted the wrong man.
In the documentary, former members of Hernandez’s defense team insist on his innocence, while his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins largely avoids addressing the murder directly, at times seeming detached from the reality of what Hernandez was facing. Jenkins remained unquestioningly devoted to the father of her baby from the time he was arrested until he died in jail, and has maintained an idyllic view of their relationship and the man she insists Hernandez was.
If Hernandez was a more sympathetic character than he deserved to be in life, his shocking suicide at age 27 cemented his near-mythical status — and meant that his earlier murder conviction, which was under appeal when he killed himself, was vacated. In death, Hernandez is technically an innocent man — though some insist he always was.
Jose Baez defended Hernandez at his double murder trial for the shootings deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, earning a surprise not guilty verdict just a few days before Hernandez was found hanged in his jail cell.
Baez has insisted that Hernandez is innocent of all three murders he was tried for.
“I think the evidence is overwhelming that he was there [at the scene of Lloyd’s murder] … but he didn’t pull the trigger,” Baez told CrimeOnline.
As the Oxygen documentary shows, Hernandez was with two of his hometown friends from Bristol, Connecticut, when he went to Boston to pick up Lloyd early in the morning on the day he was found dead. Surveillance footage at Aaron’s home show that the three men were in his car when they returned later that morning — but there was no sign of Lloyd.
Lloyd’s family is appealing the court’s decision to vacate Hernandez’s conviction, but Baez says he is confident the appeal will be unsuccessful.
“It’s been vacated … I really don’t see that changing,” Baez said.
The Oxygen documentary addresses the rumors that Hernandez was secretly gay, and so conflicted over his sexuality that he may have killed Lloyd to keep it a secret, and suggests he may have taken his own life because of his torment. But the series curiously skims over the circumstances of Hernandez’s jail cell suicide, and the reactions of those who were close to him.
Baez agreed to talk about the death of a man he had come consider a friend.
Baez said that Aaron called him from prison frequently, and that he spoke to him the day before he died.
“He was happy. He was excited for the future. We joked, we laughed,” Baez said.
“I didn’t see this coming.”
The high-profile attorney said he had developed a rudimentary understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a serious brain disorder that frequently affects professional athletes, particularly boxers and football players, who are prone to head injuries.
“There were signs of the CTE that popped up at different times: Hyperactivity, aggression, impulse control,” Baez said, while insisting that it was “misreported” in the media that Hernandez was constantly in trouble and getting into fights.
After his death, Hernandez was found to have suffered a severe case of CTE — with researchers who study the disease calling it the worst case they had ever seen in someone as young as Hernandez.
CTE is linked to depression, and is difficult to diagnose while a sufferer is still alive. Still, Baez said that he and Hernandez’s defense team considered getting him tested before his double murder trial, but thought better of it because the prosecution’s defense was “one of innocence, not of mitigation.”
Baez is convinced that Hernandez’s CTE is directly responsible for his suicide, and says he’s not sure if Hernandez even knew what he was doing. The former Patriot left behind notes to Jenkins and his daughter before he killed himself, but Baez said the letters “didn’t sound like him.”
“His brain was so severely damaged that we don’t know that it was the rational side of him” that made the decision to end his life, Baez said.
“He was extremely sick.”