Netflix recently released “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” a three-part series that aims to examine the rise and fall of the late New England Patriots tight end.
Hernandez, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2015, hanged himself in 2017 at age 27. He was discovered in his cell by corrections officer at a Massachusetts prison, the New York Times reported.
Executive producer Kevin Armstrong, who as a sportswriter originally followed Hernandez’s career, was there when the star was arrested and charged with the killing of semiprofessional football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez’s fiancée.
“I covered all 10 weeks of his first trial regarding the killing of Odin Lloyd,” Armstrong explained to Fox News. “Aaron was a very confident defendant. I really, truly believe that he thought he would get off… He walked into the courtroom each day with a bit of a swagger, a confident gait that he had. And even at the very end when he was convicted, it was pretty clear that he was surprised.
“He looked back at his fiancée and his mother and he tried to console them a little bit,” Armstrong continued. “His mother kept on saying, ‘Come back, come back.’ And I’ll never forget that sight. Obviously they had a very difficult relationship, which we get into the docuseries. But at the end of the day, Aaron was very confident that he could get off throughout the first time.”
Armstrong is aware that the documentary has already faced some controversy. Hernandez’s attorney Jose Baez, who participated in the series, told TMZ the series implied his client agonized over his sexual orientation and might have even taken his life because of his secret. He argued that Hernandez’s death was triggered by severe CTE — a degenerative brain disease that affects memory, judgment and behavior.
“We appreciate [Baez] sitting down with us,” said Armstrong. “We definitely sought him as someone who could provide perspective. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure that any of us truly know why Aaron Hernandez did what he did. Obviously, in the docuseries we explore a number of things from sexuality to CTE to drug use and even just his family development as a child. So I think that all of us are still trying to search for what exactly it was that led Aaron Hernandez to make the decisions he made.”
In the special, Dennis SanSoucie, who played high school football with Hernandez, claimed they had an on-and-off relationship “from the 7th grade to the junior year of high school.” SanSoucie alleged there were few people at their school who were “out of the closet,” and therefore they had to “hide what we were.”
“I was in such denial… because I was an athlete,” said SanSoucie. “You mean to tell me that the quarterback and the tight end was gay? He sleeps with other men? No, it doesn’t sit right with people. It doesn’t sit right within our own stomach at the time.”
Following Hernandez’s suicide, rumors began circulating that he had a relationship with another prisoner.
Jenkins, who did not participate in the documentary, told Dr. Phil in 2017 she did not believe Hernandez was gay or bisexual. She stressed he was “very much a man” and called the rumors “embarrassing” and “hurtful.”
Armstrong stood by the special’s deep dive into Hernandez’s violent, brief life.
“We wanted to provide proper perspective throughout,” he explained. “We took pride in panoramic reporting, really speaking to everybody from every angle, exhausting all resources that we had… We tried to really put that in the context of what led Aaron Hernandez to make some of the decisions he made across his life… I think it’s an open question in terms of just how much Aaron’s compartmentalization of his life really weighed on him over the years.”
But one thing both Armstrong and Baez agreed on is that Hernandez seemed elated during his final days — at first. Just a few days before his death, Hernandez was found not guilty in a second murder case, a 2012 drive-by shooting of two people in Boston.
Transcripts the Bristol County sheriff released last year of more than 900 jailhouse telephone conversations Hernandez had with family and friends showed he was expected to be released from jail and resume his football career. Hernandez had a five-year, $40 million deal with the Patriots at the time of his arrest.
“I think Aaron had reason to be optimistic in his final days,” said Armstrong. “A week earlier he gained the acquittal in the double homicide case… There [were] a lot of things going well for him and it had been a number of years since he had really had success with anything… But in those final days, I think Aaron made a decision where he was still serving a life sentence. He had the possibility of pursuing the appeal and Jose Baez potentially being the attorney to represent him in that appeal as well. But at the end of the day, he made the decision that he did.”
After Hernandez’s death, doctors found he had advanced CTE, which is linked to concussions and other head trauma commonplace in the NFL.
“I think [CTE] was a part of his decision-making, but I think there was an entire cocktail of events here in terms of the stresses and strains of life [that impacted him],” said Armstrong. “He was a young father, he had a flophouse, he had the secondary life where he kept other things away from people… Everything came together as a bit of a perfect storm for him.”
According to state police, the player wrote “John 3:16,” a reference to a Bible verse, in ink on his forehead, as well as in blood on a cell wall. The verse says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
A Bible was also found nearby, open to John 3:16. The verse was marked with a drop of blood. Authorities said that Hernandez was a member of the Bloods gang and had been disciplined for having gang paraphernalia behind bars.
“I know Aaron often pointed to a tattoo on his arm,” said Armstrong. “It says, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’ His father had given that to him. It was a saying that he had used… That was a message from his father — you’re responsible for the decisions you make. I think both father and son made some bad decisions [in their lifetimes].”
Hernandez’s story continues to both horrify and fascinate audiences. Prior to the Netflix special, other documentaries aired on both Oxygen and Investigation Discovery [ID]. There was also a “48 Hours” special, along with books by bestselling author James Patterson and even Baez.
“I think the most intriguing part of Aaron’s story is he had everything,” said Armstrong. “And this was the time [in] his life when he made the decision to kill Odin Lloyd… There’s just so many strands to him that after following his story for seven years, and even knowing him as a reporter, I think there [are] layers that continue to unravel at even two years past his death.”
“Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” is currently streaming on Netflix. The Associated Press contributed to this report.