In place of an obituary for Aaron Hernandez there is only an unexplained, incomplete blank followed by a question mark. After all of the lethal contradictions of his life, did this kiss-blowing killer, shooter with a rosary, and promising great with the dead-end eyes, resolve matters with the ultimate act of squandering and hang himself in the desolate shade of a jail cell?
He was found innocent (though not entirely) of a double murder on Friday. He was dead, apparently by his own hand with a bedsheet, by Wednesday. He was not on a suicide watch and his famed attorney Jose Baez had just given him slight hope that another murder conviction for which he was serving life in prison might be effectively appealed. If he did kill himself at age 27, you can only suppose that he was he left too alone in his cell with the consciousness of his crimes. In addition to destroying others, "All crimes, of course, are offenses against oneself," W.H. Auden wrote.
What is knowable about Hernandez is that he led a forked, double-branched life, one in which the NFL star tight end on the path of success was accompanied by a brutal self-sabotaging stranger who foiled his potential. He trained hard at Florida and succeeded brilliantly with the New England Patriots, and had the green shoots of a good life, with a fiance and a daughter. Yet he was present for four different gun blasts that left three men dead and another maimed. He posed with a Glock, and inked guns on his body along with the other tattoos that crawled up to his sullen jaw. He huffed chemical substances by the pound, and consorted by choice with bullet-strafed dealers. He was 6 foot 1 and 245 pounds of rock-solid muscle yet eggshell ego. You got the impression that for all of his large physical strength, there was something unstarched in him. Pliable.
As a 16-year-old he experienced the tragedy and shock of losing his father, Dennis, a custodian, to an infection after hernia surgery. Yet he showed no outward feeling for the families of two hard working immigrant office cleaners he was charged with murdering, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, in a 2012 drive-by shooting over a spilled drink in a nightclub. Hernandez may not have fired the shots; the jury found reasonable doubt because it was possible his friend in the car with him, Alexander Bradley, might have been the triggerman. Bradley himself is a convicted drug and gun dealer who shot up a nightclub on another occasion. But if nothing else, Hernandez gave cover to a double murder.
The rest, everything after 2012, was more unfathomable waste and stupidity, paranoia and revenge. Bradley wound up shot in the face and dumped in an alley, supposedly by Hernandez, and turned state witness against him, while also admitting he wanted to kill him in turn.
What's knowable about Hernandez is that he carried these events lightly, and had a talent for posturing and posing. In public he played the grateful guy who had been set straight by the Patriots, fooling them enough to win a contract extension worth $40 million and a $12.5 million signing bonus just six weeks after he was present for the nightclub murders. "I just hope I keep going, doing the right things, making the right decisions so I can have a good life, and be there to live a good life with my family," he said.
In private he got so stoned and drunk he had to try to get in shape for training camp by wearing a sweatsuit in a sauna. He went on debauches to strip clubs, dropping $10,000 at a time. In addition to the home he shared with his fiance, he kept a secret apartment or flop house where he stashed guns and who knows what else. He was said to have inhaled more than just marijuana, maybe PCP too.
Less than a year after Hernandez signed his contract extension with the Patriots, he apparently murdered semipro football player Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old friend who had rolled his joints for him, in a fit of paranoia. Physical evidence connected him to the industrial park where Lloyd's body was found, and he received life without parole.
The lawyer Baez asserted there were good grounds for appeal in that case, too. After being acquitted last week in the double-murder case, Hernandez had wept, and nodded, and apparently expressed optimism about eventually winning another acquittal and getting out of prison. There were reports that he was trying to do what some people with life sentences do, find some purpose or quality of life inside; he had become a copious reader, learned to play chess. On Wednesday, Baez issued a statement demanding an investigation, positing that it could have been a jailhouse murder. Will we ever know?
What's knowable is that Hernandez's past was somehow inescapable, and never stopped fouling his more promising present. So many times he willfully chose the lower fork, walked with crooks, was present when guns went off. What's knowable is that the brief path of Hernandez's life was littered with an unbelievable amount of destruction. In even a single murder, the victims are multiple. Not one but at least two whole families die, that of the victim, and that of the perpetrator, and in Hernandez's case the damage is exponential to mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters. Yet Hernandez never appeared to feel sorry for anybody -- except, if he did commit suicide, for himself. What's knowable is that Hernandez was no innocent bystander in his bloodstained life.