Aaron Hernandez’s death in cell highlights suicide problem in Massachusetts prisons

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The prison suicide of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murder, does not bring closure on the matter for the Massachusetts justice or corrections systems, the Associated Press reports.

First, Hernandez’s murder conviction probably will be vacated because it is permitted under state law when the person dies before the courts hear an appeal. The report includes two examples: a former Roman Catholic priest in prison for child molestation was beaten to death in his cell in 2003; and a man in prison for killing two abortion clinic workers in 1994 committed suicide behind bars.

Second, the maximum-security prison where Hernandez was in the general population, in a single cell, has an unusually high suicide rate. He was found hanged with a bedsheet tied to a window, and he had tried to block his cell door from the inside.

His suicide was “a shocking and sad end to a very tragic series of events that has negatively impacted a number of families,” Bristol County Attorney Thomas Quinn, who prosecuted Hernandez in the murder case that resulted in his life sentence, told the AP.

Meanwhile, Hernandez attorney Jose Baez pledged to conduct be an independent probe of Hernandez’s death, the Boston Herald reported.

“There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible,” Jose Baez said in a statement. “Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence. Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death. We request that authorities conduct a transparent and thorough investigation. The Baez Law Firm will participate in its own examination into this tragic event and update the media and public on its findings when they become available.”

Hernandez, 27, had showed no signs of mental illness and thus had not been sent to a mental health unit. He was convicted of murder in 2013 and was serving a life sentence in the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, which was named for two prison workers who were killed in an escape attempt in 1972.

Last Friday, Hernandez, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, had been acquitted of charges that he killed two men in anger over a spilled drink in a nightclub, Boston.com reports.

He was, however, convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm and received another four to five years in prison, on top of the life sentence. His fiancee was in the courtroom.

Massachusetts had an annual suicide rate of 32 per 100,000 prisoners from 2001 to 2014, which is more than twice the 13.26 per 100,000 average nationwide. Only three states have worse records than Massachusetts: Rhode Island, Utah and Montana, the Washington Post reports.




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