Day 6

New documentary series explores the life and death of NFL star-turned-murderer Aaron Hernandez

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez explores the mystery of why Aaron Hernandez, then a 23-year-old with a $40 million contract with the New England Patriots, killed his friend, was tied to a separate double-murder case, and died by suicide in 2017.

There's still no known motive as to why the Patriots player killed his friend Odin Lloyd

Former NFLer Aaron Hernandez was serving a life sentence for murder when he took his own life in April 2017. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

In his new Netflix documentary series, journalist Kevin Armstrong explores the circumstances that may have led to former NFL player Aaron Hernandez's suicide in 2017.

The former New England Patriots tight end was charged in 2013 for the murder of his friend and future brother-in-law Odin Lloyd. In 2015, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

When Hernandez signed a $40 million US contract to play for the Patriots in 2013, it seemed that he was at the height of his career. Now, questions about Hernandez's motive in the alleged murder remain unanswered.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez examines how chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and the possibility that Hernandez was hiding his sexuality, may have influenced his "impulsive" behaviour.

Armstrong spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the former athlete's life and death.

Here is part of that conversation.

You started this documentary while Aaron Hernandez was still alive. What went through your mind on April 19, 2017, when Hernandez was found dead in his cell?

I'd already been covering him for over four years as a criminal — an accused criminal — and even longer as a football player in the NFL. So the immediate thought to me was, why did he do this now? 

He had already been convicted of one murder and he had just come off of an acquittal in a double homicide. So why now? Why, when he had the possibility of still revisiting the conviction and going through the process to have that overturned, did he decide to hang himself in a maximum security prison?

There was obviously a lot going on in his life. There was drug use. There were dysfunctional family relationships. He made a lot of really bad decisions. There were lots of theories for his erratic behaviour. 

But in Killer Inside, you talk a lot about his sexuality — that he may have been gay, he may have been bisexual. How hard would it have been for Aaron Hernandez to be gay in the NFL?

It's a very macho culture. A lot of testosterone in those locker rooms. I've been in those locker rooms. I've covered the league for a number of years, and would I be surprised if an active player came out tomorrow and said that he was gay? No. I believe there probably are gay athletes across sports that simply haven't come out.

But I believe that Aaron had a complex situation. After he died, his high school quarterback has asserted that he had a sexual relationship with Aaron dating back to high school. 

One of his defence attorneys has said that he had conversations with Aaron about being gay. So this was something that Aaron was exploring as well in conversations with those close to him. 

And clearly, he was in a unique situation where, really, in the spotlight, he didn't quite know what to do in terms of what he made public [about his sexuality].

Through his football career, which started when he was a very young boy, he took a lot of hits to the head. And after he died, his brain is examined. And they find that for someone his age, he suffered from the most severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.  What behaviour did he exhibit that was symptomatic of CTE?

After Aaron was diagnosed posthumously, [the prosecutor in his second trial] said that he started to think of the different wild behaviour, and [that he was] a guy who was hard to track, who was impulsive. And if you just add it up, you know, in terms of people saying he had a short temper, all these things, I'm not sure that it was completely CTE. 

But here's a guy who played three years of high-level college football, three years in the professional ranks, and he was 23 when he was arrested. So that was the end of his playing career at 23. 

And his was a body that was pretty beaten. You know, we have phone calls of him from jail and prison where he's saying just how violent the game was and the toll it took on his body.

Let's talk about those phone calls, because they are haunting, and they provide a narrative that every single call that he made was recorded by the authorities when he was calling from prison. 

You referred to it as a voice from the grave. For you, what was the most compelling thing about hearing Aaron narrate his own situation as he was in jail?

There was a wide range from innocent, you know, father talking to young daughter that he had ... and requesting Harry Potter books for himself from his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins. 

And then there are dark conversations. His mother. He had a very tough, difficult relationship with his mother ... And he, in vulgar terms, says very clearly [to her]: "You're the reason that I'm messed up."

Then there's in between: he's joking with his agent about getting him a [firearm manufacturer] Smith and Wesson endorsement.

It opens the door for just what was going through Aaron Hernandez's mind. This was a guy who clearly had some issues to deal with even as he settled into prison life.

Aaron Hernandez, right, listens beside defense attorney Ronald Sullivan on April 14, 2017, in court in Boston, as he is pronounced not guilty of murder in the 2012 shootings of 2 men in a drive-by shooting in Boston. (WHDH-TV/Associated Press)

Why do you believe that Aaron Hernandez killed himself?

I think he knew that he had the rest of his life in prison. I think, in the courtroom, he saw his daughter who was about four years old at that time, his fiancée who continued to stick by him. 

But there was really no one else who came to support Aaron Hernandez in his second trial. His mother did not come for a single day. His brother wasn't around. 

He would joke with security members of the Department of Corrections that, "I'll always have the DOC," so I think he realized he was staring down the rest of his life behind bars.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Kevin Anderson, download our podcast or click Listen above.