Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell early Wednesday morning, the same day his old team was set to visit the White House to celebrate their victory in Super Bowl LI. Hernandez was serving life in prison without parole for the murder of Odin Lloyd, but was acquitted in a separate double-murder trial less than a week ago. (He was convicted on a gun charge in that case.) His death, which appears to be a suicide, marks the final chapter in a stunning fall from grace, one that shocked the sporting world and riveted the nation. Below is a look back at how it unfolded.
2007: Hernandez chose to play college football for the University of Florida, despite originally committing to play with his brother, D.J., at the University of Connecticut. Hernandez was the top high school tight-end recruit in the nation, setting state records in receiving yards and touchdowns on his way to winning Connecticut's player-of-the-year award.
January 8, 2009: Florida brings a second national championship in two years back to Gainesville. In his second season, Hernandez replaced the injured Cornelius Ingram and played 11 of 13 regular season games. He finished with 381 yards and five touchdowns, and Florida, led by Tim Tebow, headed back to the BCS National Championship Game. Hernandez led the Gators in receiving yards as they beat the Oklahoma Sooners, 24-14.
2009: In Gainesville, Hernandez took a mirror selfie while brandishing a handgun. In 2013, after he was accused of murder, TMZ published the photo. Prosecutors later suggested that this was the gun used to kill Odin Lloyd.
December 10, 2009: Hernandez won the John Mackey Award, for the best tight end in college football, following his junior season. He was also first-team all-SEC, and an All-American. He chose to forgo his senior year and enter the 2010 NFL Draft.
April 24, 2010: Hernandez was selected in the fourth round by the New England Patriots. He fell in the draft due to "concerns about his maturity and the people with whom he associated," according to The Washington Post, the latter referring to friends from back home in Bristol, Connecticut, who would often travel down to Gainesville for game weekends. Florida head coach Urban Meyer, who had tried to prevent Hernandez returning home whenever possible, said it was "crucial that Hernandez be surrounded by the right people."
February 5, 2012: Hernandez scored a touchdown for the Patriots at Super Bowl XLVI, but the Patriots ultimately came up short against the New York Giants.
June 2012: Police responded to reports of a domestic disturbance at Hernandez's rental home in Hermosa Beach in Los Angeles County, TMZ would report a year later. On arrival, they learned he had been "fighting" with his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins. She refused to press charges.
July 16, 2012: Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a Boston club. An SUV pulled up next to their car at a red light and someone fired on them. The deaths initially went unsolved.
August 28, 2012: Hernandez signed a five-year contract extension with the New England Patriots worth up to $40 million. That included $16 million guaranteed, a $12.5 million signing bonus, and performance bonuses. Shortly after, he visited Patriots owner Robert Kraft in his office and gave him a check for $50,000 for the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund, a charity.
February 13, 2013: Hernandez allegedly shot an associate in the face outside a strip club in Riviera Beach, Florida. Originally called the result of an altercation at the club, prosecutors later alleged that Hernandez saw Alexander Bradley as a witness who could link him to the 2012 double murder of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado. When Bradley "made a remark about the homicides," according to a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, Hernandez pulled out a gun and shot him. Bradley survived, but lost his right eye.
June 17, 2013: Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who dated the sister of Hernandez's fiancée, was shot and killed at an industrial park a mile from the NFL star's house. Hernandez rose to prominence as a suspect after it emerged he had texted out-of-state associates-who were later charged in the case-to come meet him the day before, that he had been in contact with Lloyd 10 hours before, and that he destroyed his home security system and hired a cleaning crew the day Lloyd's body was discovered.
June 26, 2013: Hernandez was arrested at his home on a charge of first-degree murder. 90 minutes later, he was cut by the New England Patriots.
August 22, 2013: Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury for the murder.
February 25, 2014: Soon after his trial began, Hernandez allegedly attacked an inmate at Bristol County Jail-despite the fact he was supposedly held in isolation.
April 15, 2014: Hernandez allegedly threatened to kill a jail guard.
May 5, 2014: Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of first degree murder for the shootings of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Authorities came to believe Hernandez was involved after the SUV from the incident was found at his uncle's house in Bristol; surveillance video showed Hernandez at the same club as the victims and his SUV circling the block until they left; and a witness in the backseat of Abreu and Furtado's car told police he saw Hernandez pull the trigger.
April 15, 2015: Hernandez was convicted on first-degree murder and all weapons charges related to the death of Odin Lloyd. He was automatically sentenced to life without parole. He was temporarily transferred to Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction, a facility located just 1.5 miles from Gillette Stadium, where he once wore the uniform of the New England Patriots.
May 11, 2015: Hernandez was indicted for shooting Alexander Bradley in the face in 2013.
April 14, 2017: A jury acquitted Hernandez in the double murder of Abreu and Furtado. He was convicted on a gun charge. His longtime fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, brought their daughter to the hearing. After hearing the verdict, Hernandez nodded and choked back tears, according to The Boston Globe, then turned to Jenkins-Hernandez and said, "I love you."
April 19, 2017: Hernandez hanged himself using a bedsheet in his prison cell at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts. According to officials, corrections officers found him hanging in his cell at 3:05 a.m. and attempted to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at UMass Memorial Health Alliance Hospital sometime later. He was 27.
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