Wednesday morning, officials reported former New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell. While an autopsy is still being performed, Hernandez was reported to have hung himself using his bed sheets.
Hernandez was currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after having been convicted for a 2013 shooting of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player. Lloyd had been dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée at the time.
In 2012, Hernandez was investigated for a connection he had to a double murder in Boston. Last week on April 14, he was found not guilty of the murders.
Formerly considered to be one of the best tight ends in college football, Hernandez was rumored to have used marijuana in college, causing him to fall in draft ranks. In 2010, the former Florida Gator was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round, after fellow tight end, Rob Gronkowski was drafted by the Patriots in the second round.
Hernandez played his final NFL game in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship on January 20, 2013. During the offseason, on June 26 he was taken from his home and arrested for his connection to the Lloyd murder. He was released from the Patriots soon after the arrest.
Due to a Massachusetts legal principle of abatement ab initio, if a person dies without all legal appeal attempts being exhausted, the case returns to its original status. Because Hernandez had an appeal pending for the Lloyd murder, under this principle he would still be considered innocent.
However, Hernandez’s issues with the law serve as a large-scale reminder of the many NFL players who have been accused of or charged with a variety of other illegal actions.
Most infamously is the murder trial of former Ravens star linebacker, Ray Lewis. On the night of January 31, 2000, after a Super Bowl party, a fight occurred between two groups of individuals, including Lewis. That night Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar were stabbed dead by a knife which contained no trace of DNA. Lewis had been wearing a white suit that night, which has never been found, however, one of the victims – Baker’s – blood was found in Lewis’ limousine.
Murder charges against Lewis were dropped when he agreed to testify against Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, two of his friends who were with him the night of the stabbing. He received 12 months probation and a $250,000 fine from the NFL. The next year he won Super Bowl XXXV and was named the game’s MVP. Before scheduled proceedings could take place, Lewis reached a settlement in 2004 with members of Lollar and Baker’s family. That same year he appeared on the cover of the Madden video game.
Even Hernandez’s own teammate, Julian Edelman had been accused of inappropriately touching a woman in 2011. No legal action was ever taken or even any disciplinary action by the NFL.
Also notable is Buccaneers Quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of raping Erica Kinsman while in college at Florida State University in January 2013. Winston’s DNA was confirmed as matching in November of 2013. Kinsman filed a civil complaint in 2015 against Winston, suing him for his actions. Two weeks after the filing, Winston was drafted with the first overall pick of the NFL draft. Winston filed for defamation against Kinsman, but it was instead settled outside of court in December 2016. Winston was never prosecuted nor disciplined.