Late last month, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones, while in the midst of what appeared to be emotional distress, went on Instagram Live and claimed that his former teammate Aaron Hernandez did not commit suicide in his prison cell back in 2017.
Jones instead asserted that Hernandez was actually murdered by current Raiders coach Josh McDaniels near an unidentified industrial park.
Jones’ claim was preposterous, of course.
It was logistically impossible, backed by zero evidence and was just one of numerous wild assertions made in a disturbing, tear-filled video. The Raiders had recently placed the 33-year-old on the NFL’s “non-football illness” list. Days later he was arrested for violating a “domestic violence temporary protection order.”
Still, Jones’ claims ricocheted across the internet — “Chandler Jones implies Aaron Hernandez didn’t kill himself … ” the New York Daily News, among others, wrote.
This follows a February 2021 episode of the “I Am Athlete” podcast where a panel of former NFL stars who knew Hernandez — Fred Taylor, Chad “Ochochinco” Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Cam Newton — discussed Hernandez. Doubt was repeatedly cast on the “alleged suicide” being Hernandez’s cause of death.
“There wasn’t no damn suicide,” Ochocinco, also a former teammate with Hernandez, claimed on the podcast.
That opinion is not shared by Jose Baez, the high-powered, hard-charging attorney who not only represented Hernandez, but investigated Hernandez’s death more deeply than anyone.
Baez not only completely refutes any suggestion that Hernandez died by any manner other than suicide, he is troubled by any conspiracy theory to the contrary being expressed.
He spoke to Yahoo Sports on Monday in an effort to prevent the misinformation from gaining traction and spreading further, if only to help Hernandez’s family, especially his now 10-year-old daughter, Avielle.
“Believe me,” Baez said, “if I thought Aaron had been murdered, I wouldn’t have stopped at anything. I would have made it my mission in life to get to the bottom of it and I would have held the state responsible for it.
“But that’s not what I saw,” Baez continued. “That’s not what the evidence showed me … It saddens me to see more of these conspiracy theories out there, because Aaron has a legacy. And it is certainly a clouded legacy but there doesn’t need to be any more added on.
“He has a child and she is going to read all of these things out there and I think it is unfortunate for folks who don’t have enough of the facts to be throwing that out there like that,” Baez said.
Hernandez’s death was undoubtedly stunning. Just five days prior, with Baez as his attorney, the 27-year-old former New England Patriot was found not guilty of murder in the 2012 deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.
Hernandez was still serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, but sounded upbeat during subsequent phone calls with friends and family, including Baez. The former player and his lawyer were in the process of appealing the conviction in the Lloyd case.
Yet at 3:03 a.m. on April 19, 2017, corrections officers found an unresponsive Hernandez hanging from a knotted prison bed sheet inside cell No. 52 of the G-2 unit of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts. His cell door had been pegged from the inside with cardboard to make it harder to open. Shampoo coated the floor to prevent him from gaining footing. Hernandez additionally left behind three suicide notes and had written “John 3:16” on both himself and the wall.
“I was just as shocked as anyone else … ” Baez said. “I had spoken to him hours before and we talked about the future and we talked about good things and he was in good spirits.”
It’s why Baez caught the first flight possible to Boston and promised a complete investigation into Hernandez’s cause of death.
“We had the opportunity to dive into the entire case,” Baez said. “I inspected his cell. I saw all of his property. I saw all of the crime scene photos. I saw all of his phone records. I listened to all of the recordings.
“I was present during his autopsy,” Baez continued. “We hired the best medical examiner in the country, and there was zero doubt in his mind and from what I saw on the cause of death …
“I didn’t see any signs of a struggle on Aaron’s body. Aaron was a fighter, he would not have gone down quietly. And he was a big guy. How many bigger guys were there in that prison? Not many. And to be able to take him out like that?
“He didn’t have any stab wounds, any other wounds to his body, any other bruises, any other injuries that would make me think he was in a fight,” Baez said. “His knuckles, his hands, they were all fine.”
The Massachusetts State Police conducted their own investigation, which is publicly available. It further casts doubt on a murder occurring, let alone an ensuing cover up that would require at least dozens of others, ranging from guards, prisoners, EMTs, video technicians and local doctors.
The South Florida-based Baez is one of the most renowned and successful criminal defense and post conviction attorneys in the country. He is famed for winning extremely challenging cases with an aggressive, pointed defense.
If there was ever an attorney who would pursue this case, it would be him, and that’s even before he and Hernandez developed a deep friendship.
“We are convinced that his death was the result of CTE and I think the autopsy of his brain and the examination that was conducted by Boston University was quite clear in that regard,” Baez said of the disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy that has haunted some former athletes who received repeated blows to their head.
Hernandez was diagnosed with the “most severe case [researchers] had ever seen in someone [his age].”
“CTE is a silent killer and unfortunately there is no way to detect it in the living and for that reason it is something we just have to deal with,” Baez said.
He hopes, if anything, Hernandez’s suicide can serve as an educational point for all football players. He expressed particular concern over the behavior of Jones, an 11-year NFL veteran. Baez noted that suicidal thoughts can come on quickly and without warning.
“I think a lot of times people keep [suicide] to themselves or they think of [it] on the fly,” Baez said. “I have a feeling that the CTE would come and go with Aaron. I know there were times he complained about headaches, really bad ones. There were times he didn’t feel like himself.
“I don’t think this was a one-time feeling; it was something he struggled with and on that evening it was too much to bear.”
Baez hopes that everyone, especially Hernandez’s friends, will accept the truth of the situation and end the harmful conspiracy theories. He understands the initial doubt, but the evidence couldn’t be more clear or overwhelming.
“It’s just one of those things,” Baez said. “We don’t want to believe certain things or we find other things hard to believe so therefore we find reasons to justify our beliefs. And that is what I think is the case here.”