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Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez
By Jose Baez
Foreword by Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez
With George Willis
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When renowned defense attorney Jose Baez received a request for representation from Aaron Hernandez, the disgraced Patriots tight-end was already serving a life sentence for murder. Defending him in a second, double-murder trial seemed like a lost cause–but Baez accepted the challenge, and their partnership culminated in a dramatic courtroom victory, a race to contest his first conviction, and ultimately a tragedy, when Aaron took his own life days after his acquittal.
This riveting, closely-observed account of Aaron’s life and final year is the only book based on countless intimate conversations with Aaron, and told from the perspective of a true insider. Written with the support of Hernandez’s fiancée, Unnecessary Roughness takes readers inside the high-profile trial, offering a dramatic retelling of the race to obtain key evidence that would exonerate Hernandez, and later play a critical role in appealing his first conviction.
With revelations about Aaron’s personal life that weren’t shared at trial, and an exploration of the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy diagnosis revealed by his autopsy, Jose Baez’s Unnecessary Roughness is a startling courtroom drama and an unexpected portrait of a fallen father, fiancé, and teammate.
When I signed the papers giving Aaron’s brain to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center it was a decision I made as his fiancée, along with Aaron’s defense team. If I could potentially help someone else, why not do it? Also, I wanted answers. I wanted to know why my fiancé died just when there was hope he might someday come home. There’s still a ton of answers I want. But this is a start.
This may sound weird to say about someone you love, but I feel like CTE researchers hit the jackpot when they got Aaron’s brain. Of course the news that he had Stage 3 CTE, how severe it was, and that he had the brain of someone so much older was devastating for us to hear. But if examining the condition of his brain can help others, especially football players, Aaron would be pleased. It’s like he’s back on a team again.
I have loved Aaron Hernandez since we were in high school. I will love him until the day I die. I miss his smile every day and I miss seeing him being a father to our daughter. My prayer is that he is finally at peace. Free of chains, bars, courtrooms, and judgment. I cried when Jose Baez and his law partner Ron Sullivan told me the news that Aaron had suffered such a severe case of CTE. After all we had been through—his arrest, his trials, and his death—it was still devastating news. I cried because I realized I had tried to help him for so long, but there was nothing I could have done. I cried because there was a battle going on within his brain and he didn’t even know it. None of us did.
We met in grade school, became friends in middle school, and were sweethearts at Bristol Central High School. I ran track. He was a football player. He was very popular, and I was just trying to get through school and get good grades. He had girls vying for his attention, and I had a strict mom at home, who was a single parent. But even though we were raised differently, we got along. We talked; we became close.
When he left for the University of Florida, I went to community college and let him do his own thing. He was a baby. I wanted him to grow up and experience all he needed to experience. Our relationship was on and off until he showed up at my work one day, not long after he was drafted by the Patriots.
I was working three jobs, but soon moved into his apartment in Plainview, Massachusetts. Then I became pregnant with Avielle. He proposed at my baby shower in front of almost fifty people, and in what seems like a blink, Avielle was born on Aaron’s birth date. We moved into our dream home and everything was going the way it was supposed to. Life wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was close.
Then on June 26, 2013, he was arrested and charged with shooting Odin Lloyd, and our lives were never the same. My sympathies go out to all the victims. Murder can never be condoned. But Aaron never got a fair trial—in the media or in court. He listened to people he thought would give him the best legal advice and although they tried, I don’t think they tried hard enough, which makes me extremely upset. We could have avoided so much, and maybe he would still be alive. When I heard the guilty verdict, it kicked in that he wasn’t coming home. I was going to have to raise our child all by myself and lose the love of my life, all in one fell swoop.
I cried even more when in 2017 he was found innocent of an earlier crime, the 2012 Boston double murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, because I knew there was victory ahead. He was finally acquitted. We (Jose and his team were his defense attorneys) knew our fighting wasn’t going to waste. That’s why I believe Aaron cried so much when they said “not guilty.” We had waited so long and fought so hard. We realized we were moving in the right direction.
When someone from the prison informed me by telephone that Aaron had died, I cried the tears that come with tragedy. I first called my lawyers to try to figure out whether it was a hoax, because people had been very cruel. After the victory he had, and having spoken to him the day before, I couldn’t imagine him committing suicide.
A few calls later I learned it was true. Aaron was dead. I thought, What do I do now? I raced to the hospital, but the doctors wouldn’t let me be with him. His death was still under investigation, they said. Someone told me he wasn’t even at the hospital, but that was a lie because I saw him being wheeled into a room. He had died alone. I didn’t want him to be alone any longer. I wanted to see him while all of him was still intact. I wanted to hold him.
Instead of being with my fiancé, I was told I had to wait. I didn’t see him until days later when he was already embalmed and prepared for his funeral. It was beyond awful.
There has been much speculation about Aaron’s sexuality since his death. I can say this: Aaron was very much a man to me. I saw no indication that he was gay or homosexual. I wish I had known how he felt, just so we could have talked about it. I wouldn’t have disowned him. I would have been supportive. I can’t fault him if he was feeling that way. When you love someone so much you just want to be there to support them. The fact that he felt he couldn’t come out to me or he couldn’t tell me these things hurts, because we had that bond. I’ve accepted that he may have been the way he was said to be, or that it may not be true. Regardless, I won’t know.
The alarming part is we’ll never know exactly what was going through Aaron’s mind during those final days, months, and years, and what impact CTE had. Things I never picked up on, now I sit back and question. What was the real reason for this outburst or that outburst or him forgetting to do this, that, and a hundred different things? It’s hard to imagine how many people have CTE and their families have no idea.
I haven’t figured out how to tell my daughter about everything that happened. Avielle is healthy, and I’m breathing. She’s very smart and asks a bunch of questions, especially about Daddy. When the time is right and she really wants to understand, I think she’ll be all right. She’s smart for her age, and that’s important considering what she may face in the future.
In his last note, written moments before he died, Aaron asked me to tell his story. I also know he had a similar conversation with Jose, because he felt he had a fighter in Jose: a big brother who would defend him to the end. Aaron and Jose grew extremely close during Aaron’s final year on earth. Jose never judged him. He was only there to help; that help extended to me and Avielle. Even after Aaron’s passing, Jose is still here willing to keep fighting for Aaron and his legacy.
The easiest thing for Jose to do is to take his incredible legal victory, which was achieved against all odds, and move on, but that is not Jose. I hope all those who read this book see what we went through and understand the importance of having someone in your corner. While that was my role in Aaron’s heart, Jose maintained that role in the courtroom.
I also want to recognize that Jose was not alone. He put together the greatest legal team, which included Harvard professor Ronald Sullivan, Linda Kenney-Baden, George Leontire, and Michelle Medina. They became and to this day remain family, to not only Aaron but to Avielle and myself. I’m glad Jose is telling Aaron’s story. This is an insider’s story written by the man who knew him best at a time of triumph and tragedy. I’m glad the truth will finally be told.
THE BEGINNING OR THE END
This was the part Aaron Hernandez hated most: having to say goodbye. The telephone calls with his high school sweetheart and devoted fiancée, Shayanna, were never long enough. Their talks were his chance to escape the confines of prison and connect to a life outside the walls that kept closing in on him. “Babe, they’re locking up now,” Aaron said after a guard gave him that nod to end his call.
Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez also hated this part. Outwardly, she was free to live her life. But she was in bondage too. The telephone calls to her fiancé were their only communication now, until she and her daughter, Avielle, could make their next visit. Each phone call had meaning; a couple sharing their day like any other couple would.
“I love you,” Shayanna whispered.
“I love you too,” Aaron said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Shayanna would later speak of how their talk had been a good one. They dared to dream about a day when Aaron would be out of prison and free to be the father and husband he hoped he could be. He had been acquitted of double murder charges five days earlier, and now his previous conviction for the death of Odin Lloyd in 2013 would be appealed.
Home to Aaron for now was Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, located about an hour’s drive west of Boston. The maximum-security prison is where he was inmate W106228 serving, in what seems like a hopeless existence, life without parole. He would be there for two years. Handcuffed and dressed in the white and red wardrobe for prisoners, Aaron would be escorted back to his cell as he always was. Any guard, in a test of strength, would be no match for the younger, stronger, former Pro Bowl tight end. But as Aaron liked to say, “Those days are over.”
As they reached the second floor of the G2 housing unit the guard yelled, “Open cell 57.” Those heavy metal doors separate slowly, often squeaking like a pig in pain.
This was the kind of night Aaron often told Shayanna about. The nights when his trademark smile is gone and it’s back to his reality: the loneliness, the solitude, and the bright light through the window.
Aaron would often describe how he’d sit down on his bunk and rub his temples. His friends knew of his frequent migraines that began with a dull ache in his head. They had become more frequent of late. He would lie down and throw a T-shirt over his eyes to block the light shining through the small, barred window about eighteen inches wide and three feet long.
“My head is going to explode” is how he once described it to Shayanna.
The migraines came with hot flashes. That’s what he called them. He would then strip off his T-shirt and jailhouse pants until his six-foot-two tattooed body was naked. He had mentioned doing this a lot in recent days, going from hot to cold, cold to hot. He would pace, holding his head.
Aaron said it took three steps to pace from one end of the cell to the other. Back and forth he would pace, trying to concentrate on the steps to help keep his mind off his pain.
He would think all kinds of things. If you knew Aaron, there was only one thing that brought him comfort in times like this: a picture of his four-year-old daughter, Avielle. She always made him smile. She always made him feel better. Avielle, born on Aaron’s birth date of November 6, looks just like Shayanna; she has brown cocoa skin and gorgeous hazel eyes just like her mother. To Aaron his daughter and her mother are symbols of strength, beauty, love, and better times.
“How is it possible to love someone so much,” Aaron would say. “Did I fuck it up?”
Prison is scary quiet at night except for the sounds of an occasional cough, or a scream. No one really knows what Aaron was thinking on this night, or even if he was in his right mind. No one knows what kind of pain he felt.
When did Aaron decide this would be his last night on earth? Maybe the disease CTE knows. He was upbeat when he talked to me on the telephone earlier in the day. “I’m so happy,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.”
One moment he is lost in love and thankfulness, looking forward to a future as a free man again. Then the depression and the pain must have come back.
Prison was his reality; the reality behind the smile. The past, the present, the pain, the paranoia had taken Aaron from the highest high to the lowest low; from playing in front of thousands of cheering fans to being alone in a prison cell.
Aaron became religious in prison. He had learned from his college coach Urban Meyer that the Bible was the word of God, and those who believed would have everlasting life; an everlasting life free from judgment, free from pain, and free from depression.
Aaron reached for the Bible on his final night. Perhaps he was searching for a promise. At some point he turned to the New Testament, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Prison had been a constant battle: fighting the justice system, fighting inmates, fighting officers, and fighting the depression caused by his choices. A drop of blood falls on the scripture and John 3:16 would be scribbled in blood on Aaron’s forehead. Somewhere during this time, Aaron must have decided that life was no longer worth living.
VARIOUS CORRECTIONAL and law enforcement reports detail a timeline account of the final hours of Aaron Hernandez’s life. He deserved a better ending than this. Here’s what’s believed to have happened.
It’s 3:00 A.M. on April 19, 2017. Corrections Officer Gerard Breau is making his normal rounds at the G2 housing unit at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. He is working the 11:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. shift. As he slowly walks the unit’s second floor, Breau looks into inmates’ door windows to make sure they’re where they’re supposed to be. It’s normally a boring routine.
Breau reaches cell 57 and stops. There is a cloth or curtain of some sort blocking the window, preventing him from seeing into the cell. A lifelong Patriots fan, Breau knows it’s a private cell for Aaron Hernandez, the former football star. Breau knocks on the door. There’s no response. He knocks again with more force. Again, there is no response.
Breau, bald and stocky, looks up to see part of what appears to be a curtain sticking through the top of the door. It’s not uncommon for an inmate to do that. It’s their way of having some fun with the guards. Breau reaches up, grabs the cloth, and slides it to the side, allowing him to look into the cell. His eyes grow wide with shock.
Aaron Hernandez is naked, his tattoo-covered body dangling lifeless from a white bedsheet wrapped tightly around his neck. The bedsheet is attached to a bar in a back window, located a few feet higher than his six-foot-two, 240-pound frame.
“Oh shit. Oh fuck,” Breau says.
With adrenaline flooding his body, Breau reaches for his radio and clicks it on. “Code 99. Repeat, Code 99… Inmate hanging, G2 cell 57,” he yells. “Repeat, Code 99. It’s Aaron!”
Regulations for officer safety prevent Breau from entering without a supervisor’s approval. He begins to pace nervously as he waits for a response team to arrive. Seconds seem like minutes.
Breau wonders whether he missed something during his rounds earlier that night. At this point he realizes the screwup. He did not make his rounds in the last hour, contrary to policy making it mandatory to check on inmates every hour. There will be hell to pay for this.
At 3:05 A.M. Corrections Officers Shawnn Gyles, Mathew Way, and Nicholas Lawton arrive and give the okay to enter the cell. Breau hurriedly unlocks the door and tries to push it open. There’s resistance. It barely budges.
“Help me,” Breau says. “It won’t open.”
It takes the strength of three grown men—Gyles, Way, and Breau—to push the door open. Once inside they see that it had been blocked by various paper materials, including a piece of cardboard from the back of a notepad. They also quickly notice that the floor of the small cell is covered with a soapy substance, perhaps shampoo. It’s hard to keep their balance.
The corrections officers’ instincts are to save Aaron’s life. Breau rushes to grab Aaron’s nude body by the legs while Gyles follows regulations by handcuffing the inmate’s wrists. It seems like a useless exercise but it follows regulations. Gyles then helps Breau lift Aaron’s lifeless body upward to relieve the pressure from around his neck.
Officer Way, who is built like a power lifter, grabs a pair of shears brought into the cell and tries to cut through the bedsheet wrapped around Aaron’s neck. The sheet is tighter than wet rope.
Officers and medical personnel throughout the prison have been alerted. The whole prison is abuzz. Soon the cell has more people than it can hold. Sergeant David Lambert is next to arrive and begins assisting Breau and Gyles to hold up Aaron in case there is some chance for a miracle.
All are struggling with maintaining their leverage on the slippery floor. Way meanwhile is still having trouble cutting through the fabric. The shears are dull and the bedsheet is wound with knots meticulously tied in different locations.
“It’s just not cutting,” Way says in frustration.
Corrections Officers Tyler Courtney and Edmond Pavia, along with a medical team consisting of nurses Kelly Ryder and Coleen Narvaez, arrive at the cell. As Way struggles to cut through the sheet, Courtney stands on the bed and helps lift Aaron’s cold body by pushing under his arm, creating more slack in the bedsheet.
It takes nearly two minutes of frantic cutting before the dull shears finally slice through the bedsheet. It seems like it took forever. Once the material is cut, Aaron is lowered to the floor and Courtney loosens and then removes the noose from around his neck.
Is he still alive? Is he breathing? Ryder checks for a pulse. There is none. Aaron isn’t breathing. Breau, Gyles, and Lawton immediately begin CPR. There is still no response.
Ryder looks closer at Aaron’s body and sees he has defecated on himself. His body is cyanotic. He is cold to the touch and his ears and lips are blue: all signs of death.
As CPR continues, Ryder radios for a life support ambulance that will bring advanced life-saving equipment and an experienced paramedic.
Ten minutes after Aaron is first discovered, a stretcher arrives at his cell. Other inmates are straining through their small door windows to see what’s going on. Aaron’s body is placed on a stretcher, his hands still in restraints, and carried by corrections officers to a downstairs holding room where he is placed on a gurney where Courtney continues CPR at a rate of one hundred compressions per minute.
At 3:25 A.M. the ambulance arrives. Paramedics take over medical care and hook Aaron to a heart monitor. They also stick an intravenous line into his leg. Everyone is moving quickly. Time is of the essence. No one is ready to give up.
As Aaron is being placed in the ambulance, the gurney somehow gets stuck halfway in. This can’t be happening. Courtney continues CPR while an EMT officer struggles to unhinge the gurney. “Push,” he tells his team. After a hard shove, the gurney slides into the ambulance. The door closes. Aaron is leaving prison, but not the way he imagined.
He is transported to UMass Memorial-HealthAlliance Hospital in nearby Leominster, Massachusetts, where he is placed in emergency room one. Hospital personnel greet the ambulance and resume life-saving measures.
Among those working on Aaron is Dr. Evan Swayze, an emergency medicine doctor with seventeen years of experience. He knows it is hopeless. Aaron’s body, still in restraints, has shown no sign of life since it was discovered an hour earlier. Swayze takes a step back and pronounces time of death at 4:07 A.M.
Aaron Hernandez, the former high school standout, college All-American, and NFL football star, was pronounced dead while naked and in restraints. He was twenty-seven years old.
The letter arrived on May 15, 2016.
I have heard a lot about you from Kristina and I’m very intrigued. I am not sure where to start but I really just want to touch base with you on everything on my end, where I’m at in my thoughts going forward. I, also, want to know about your mindset on appeals and your experience with them. I have heard that your resume is very impressive, the reason I’m reaching out to you. Hopefully, this may lead to something positive in my future.
As you, most likely, know, I am currently serving a life sentence for a crime I didn’t do. Yes, all convicts say their [sic] innocent, or most, but there are actually many that truly are as I’m sure you know being in this profession dealing with this corrupt system. My trial was definitely not a fair trial; I was convicted before I went to trial; it was all over the media, evidence allowed in court as well as evidence not admissible. That’s only the beginning of it, but all in all, theres [sic] so much to talk of if we go forward in the future. It all depends on if your [sic] interested, if could truly help, and where you head is at with this. I’m just trying to fight for my life and not do life for some something I didn’t do. My CO-D, one of them just beat his case and was only convicted of accessory after the fact, sentenced to a 4½ to 7 year bid. The other hasn’t went to trial yet. I truly believe there’s a ton of things to attack in this trial, or at least I hope but time will tell. I have two lawyers currently working on my appeal—court appointed. I’m not sure your views on everything but going forward if you could truly help we will figure a way to make it happen in this battle marathon to get my freedom back.
I am going to trial soon for another murder trial which I should win but who knows with this system. I just hope I receive a fair trial. There is a lot going on and I just wanted to touch base with you hoping something positive can come from it. So if you have a second, I would truly appreciate you getting back to me letting me know your mindset on whatever comes to mind. I hope you’re interested for I feel that something can be done to take steps closer to my freedom.
I am going to let you go. I hope to hear from you soon. I hope all your loved ones are doing well. As well as yourself. I will be in touch!
Sent with respect,
P.O. Box 8000
Shirley, MA 01464
I’d known of Aaron Hernandez long before that letter arrived. I went to Florida State University (FSU) in the early 1990s and was a big college football fan. I have to admit that when I first saw Aaron playing tight end for the University of Florida, the main in-state rival school of FSU, I didn’t like him. After seeing him destroy my Seminoles on the football field, I was sure I hated him.
Still, I followed him when he got drafted by the Patriots in 2010 and as he emerged as a young star in the NFL. He reached the Super Bowl in 2011 and I remembered he had signed a $40 million contract. I admired him for being one of the few Hispanic players in the NFL to make it.
I immediately took notice when he was named as the number one suspect in the murder of Odin Lloyd, who had been dating Shayanna’s sister. I thought there was a good chance I might be on the short list of lawyers he was considering hiring for his case. We shared a Puerto Rican heritage and had ties to the state of Florida. I even asked around to see if anyone had heard my name being mentioned. I got mixed feedback. A reporter called me and told me he had heard I was being mentioned by sources close to Aaron, but that turned out to not be true. I didn’t get the call. When elite athletes get themselves in trouble, they go to their agents and managers.
You look at guys like Aaron and Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champion convicted of rape. They follow their handlers’ advice, and their handlers base their judgments on their relationships, not necessarily who is the best person for the job.
So Aaron ended up with a lead attorney in his first case named Michael K. Fee, who worked for a large national law firm. Those lawyers do not try murder cases. Usually their cases are white-collar crimes, if they do any criminal work at all. Trust me when I tell you there is a huge difference between the worlds of murder and white-collar-crime cases. I would be surprised if he had ever represented a defendant in a murder case. The truth is I don’t know. Aaron had millions of dollars and could have put up a defense that most accused citizens could only dream of, but that was the case. His dream team failed him. He was convicted for murdering Lloyd and sentenced to life without parole.
At this point I was reluctant to defend him on charges of killing two men during a shooting at a downtown traffic light in Boston in July 2012. It’s difficult to defend someone in a murder case—and even more difficult when they’ve already been convicted of murder and have a reputation as a thug, gangbanger, and reckless athlete who had blown a prosperous career in the NFL. I also questioned whether he had the financial resources to build a proper defense. Hiring a defense team and investigators takes money. Aaron had signed a $40 million contract extension with the New England Patriots in August of 2012, with part of the $12.5 million signing bonus deferred. When he was arrested in June 2013, the Patriots released him from the team and refused to pay the remaining $3.2 million of his signing bonus.
I figured I would at least meet Aaron and hear what he had to say. A week after he contacted me, I met him for the first time in the visiting room at Souza-Baranowski. I asked my good friend and colleague Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. to come with me. “Sully,” as we call him, is a Harvard law professor, and I figured if I ended up taking the case it would be good to have someone I trusted nearby to help out.
The first thing I noticed was that Aaron was bigger than I expected. He was listed as six foot two, but believe me, Aaron was much bigger. He looked more like six four, 250 pounds. I had represented football players before, and Aaron looked the part and then some. Although he was heavily tattooed and in prison, his smile and handshake were warm and friendly.
We met in a part of the prison that looked like a large cafeteria, but wasn’t. It was where inmates had their contact visits with their families. As lawyers we were allowed to go into a private room and speak to Aaron with plenty of privacy, while a guard stood outside the door. Aaron was gracious and complimentary when we met. He extended his hand and we gave each other a firm handshake. “Man, I have heard so much about you,” he said. “Thank you so much for coming to see me. I really appreciate it.”
We sat down and began by discussing the appeal of his conviction in the Odin Lloyd case. He was very concerned with the fact that he felt he did not get a fair trial. He explained how before he set foot in a real courtroom, the court of public opinion had already convicted him.
"In Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez, the attorney who got Hernandez acquitted of a 2012 double murder squashes the rumor about the jailhouse letters, sheds fascinating new details about Hernandez's trade request to Bill Belichick, and describes Hernandez's final days as an inmate and later suicide victim."
—The Boston Globe
"Jose Baez... shares his unique insight."
—Good Morning America
"[Unnecessary Roughness] features fascinating new details about Hernandez's life and final days leading up to his suicide."
"This new book asks a lot of questions. Questions about [Aaron's] sexuality. Questions about his friends.... [W]hat did the Patriots know about Hernandez's past, and when did they know it? There seems little question he loved the Patriots.... Aaron Hernandez-the New England kid who... paid a very high price for those football dreams of his."
—The Providence Journal
"A compelling read."
—New York Sports Day
- "One of the best-known criminal-defense lawyers in America. . . The man who knows Aaron Hernandez's secrets."—Esquire
- On Sale
- Aug 21, 2018
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Hachette Books