A much-anticipated docuseries on Aaron Hernandez hit Netflix on Wednesday, and over three episodes it traces his shocking and seemingly incomprehensible downfall. Between the ages of 16 and 27, the Connecticut native went from being a fun-loving high school star to a well-paid tight end for the Super Bowl-minded Patriots, only to end up committing suicide in prison after being convicted of one Boston-area murder and heavily implicated in two others.
Members of Hernandez’s family declined to participate in the series, the executive producers of which are a pair of sportswriters, Dan Wetzel and Kevin Armstrong, who appear frequently in the episodes to recount events.
Hernandez can be heard speaking with a number of people close to him, including his mother and his fiancee, in phone conversations recorded while he was in a Bristol County (Massachusetts) jail. In addition, the series features commentary from childhood friends, law enforcement and prison officials, defense attorneys, journalists and Patriots teammates.
Here are the eight most striking details that emerged from “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.”
His high school quarterback said they were in a sexual relationship.
As with many other aspects of the series, those who followed Hernandez’s saga closely or who happened to catch a relevant headline may already have been familiar with the claims made by Dennis SanSoucie, his quarterback and close friend at Bristol Central High. Those unfamiliar with the claims, however, may well be taken aback to hear SanSoucie say they “experimented” sexually.
“We continued because we probably enjoyed it.
“Yes, we were in a relationship back then,” SanSoucie tells the camera, “but at the time, you don’t look at it like that.”
Elsewhere in the series, SanSoucie says that when news emerged that Hernandez may have had a lover in prison, his father scoffed and declared that there was no way the stud athlete he knew could be gay. SanSoucie said it took him months after that before he “broke the news” about himself and Hernandez.
SanSoucie’s father, Tim, sits next to his son and says at one point that he was “homophobic” years ago, just as Hernandez’s father was.
“Aaron was extremely terrified of his father finding out,” Dennis SanSoucie adds. “I mean, Mr. Hernandez was well known as a man’s man, a father that slapped the [gay slur] right out of you.”
While the series is understandably incapable of fully explaining what drove Hernandez to forfeit his lucrative athletic career in favor of the criminality that eventually led to at least one homicide, “Killer Inside” posits at several points that his discomfort with his sexual inclinations, or at least the way they might be viewed by others, manifested itself in angry and occasionally violent outbursts.
Other potential factors, such as his brain being posthumously discovered with a stunningly advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), as well as his father’s abrupt death when he was 16, are also explored. Yet the possibility that Hernandez was homosexual or bisexual is consistently raised in the series, including by former Patriots offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan, who came out as gay after his NFL career ended in 2011.
O’Callaghan appreciated the Patriots culture, pointing out that the team’s focus on winning and mandate to avoid any and all distractions made life easier for him as someone in the closet. He also suggested that Hernandez was extremely concerned about deterring any suspicion regarding his sexuality.
“I think the whole story about Aaron is really unfortunate because you don’t know what drove him to do these things,” the former offensive lineman declares. “You know, if he was able to be himself and have some of these negative things not in his life, what kind of difference would that have made?”
The series also notes that Hernandez’s older brother, DJ Hernandez, wrote in a book that there was a time when Aaron, inspired by female cousins, wanted to become a cheerleader. Their father ended that quickly, DJ claimed.
He grew up in such a pro-University of Connecticut family, even their dog was named UConn.
The Hernandez household was all about the Huskies – for as long as the patriarch, Dennis Hernandez, was alive and providing leadership and stability for young Aaron. The father, known in their Bristol neighborhood as “The King,” played at U-Conn. and DJ was a quarterback there who would soon be joined by his star tight end of a sibling.
Everything changed, according to several interviewees in the series, after Dennis Hernandez unexpectedly died in 2006 while undergoing hernia surgery.
“Once his father passed,” the sheriff in charge of the Bristol jail says, “[Hernandez] basically lost the ballast that kept him on course.”
A childhood friend and football teammate, Steven Ziogas, tells us Dennis Hernandez was “that rock, someone who can set that foundation of values to make sure you’re gonna be a good man, a good father and a good member of the community.” With his death, Ziogas says, “Now that’s all gone.”
Dennis Hernandez wasn’t always a positive role model, though, according to “Killer Inside.”
DJ Hernandez is seen saying their father had issues with alcohol, and “if it wasn’t a good day, you felt it.”
In a phone call to Tanya Singleton, a cousin with whom he was very close, Hernandez describes his father as a good man who possessed a wild side. He also says his father’s relationship was his mother was destructive, suggesting that the elder Hernandez put her “through hell.”
Still, Hernandez and his dad are described as very close by another childhood friend, Kristen St. John. She says that she thought at the time of the father’s death, “This is not good. Aaron is not gonna take this well at all.”
St. John described the period around Dennis Hernandez’s death as “the turning point of everything in Aaron’s life.”
Hernandez, stunning his family, decided to jilt U-Conn. and his home state altogether not long after, to play football at the University of Florida, where Coach Urban Meyer had built a powerhouse program.
He told his mother in a phone call from prison, “You f—-d my whole life up.”
If Hernandez was well aware that his father could be cruel to his mother, he hardly let her off the hook for his issues.
In one call from jail, he tells her, “I don’t put you down, and you f—-d my whole life up.” When she protests, he exclaims, “You did! But I forgave you, and it’s over with.”
It wasn’t quite over in that exchange. Hernandez went on to exclaim to his mother, “I was the happiest f—–g little kid in the world, and you f—-d me up. And I just lost my father, and I had to go to college. And I had nobody.
“What the f— did you think I was gonna do, become a perfect angel?”
Hernandez is then heard telling is mother, “Oh my god, if I was with you right now, I would have probably punched the [expletive] out of you. You bring me to this level.”
In another phone conversation between the two, he explains that he doesn’t feel he can confide in her, saying, “You’re going to die without ever even knowing your son. That’s the craziest thing about it.”
He asked after the 2013 season to be traded away from New England.
The request came shortly after Hernandez allegedly shot Alexander Bradley, a partner in crime both literally and figuratively, in the face. It was also several months after the double-murder for which he eventually went on trial, and Hernandez was said to be in a very high state of anxiety, if not outright paranoia.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick turned down the request even though Hernandez said he had some worries about his family’s safety, but the team did suggest some extra security measures and helped Hernandez find an apartment.
Tim San Soucie expresses annoyance in the series at the NFL for helping Hernandez find other living arrangements that he found to be secretive in some measure.
“Now the guy’s got a house, why does he need another apartment?” SanSoucie says. “And why are you helping him get it? Did you think he was gonna be painting Bob Ross pictures over there?”
Testimony from Robert Kraft helped convince jurors of his guilt.
During Hernandez’s trial for the murder of Odin Lloyd, the boyfriend of his fiancee’s sister, the Patriots’ owner took the stand to divulge what he discussed with the tight end shortly after Hernandez was connected to Lloyd’s death.
“I understood there was an incident that had transpired, and I wanted to know whether he was involved, and if he was – any player that comes into our team I consider part of our extended family, and I wanted to get him help,” Kraft said of Hernandez. “He said he was not involved, that he was innocent, and that he hoped that the time of the murder incident came out, because I believe he said he was in a club.”
Hernandez’s comments, as relayed by Kraft, suggested that the tight end already had some idea of the time of the murder, and at least a few jurors took note. There was also a mountain of other evidence that at the very least placed Hernandez at the scene of the crime, including a marijuana-filled blunt that was linked to his DNA.
He told a former NFL teammate that all players needed were “weed and Toradol.”
“That’s all you need, baby!” Hernandez told former Florida teammate Mike Pouncey, then with the Dolphins, at the time of their recorded phone exchange.
“I’m telling you, bro, they’re canceling all the Toradols,” Pouncey replies, referring to a painkiller notoriously overprescribed for years by NFL teams. “They don’t want to give you no Toradol shots no more.”
“If players want it, man,” Hernandez says, “they’re getting that.”
At another point in the series, Jenkins is heard on a phone call telling her fiance, “All those drugs they shoot you guys up with, and tell you to go out there and play. ‘Play through your pain. Go! Go!'”
“You know what’s crazy?” Hernandez replies. “They banned that [expletive] from the league, saying you only could take it if you have a serious injury or something. . . . Guess who they gave that [expletive] to every [expletive] game? Me.”
Hernandez also tells Jenkins in the series, “My body’s so f—-d up, honestly. Just from football, you know what I mean?”
After his suicide, his defense attorney thought, “We’ve gotta get that brain.”
Hernandez hanged himself in his prison cell in 2017, despite being acquitted four days earlier for the murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, two strangers whom Massachusetts prosecutors argued were shot in a 2012 drive-by after a brief altercation with the Patriots player at a Boston club.
The defense attorney, Jose Baez, said a day after the suicide that Hernandez’s family would donate the tight end’s brain for study by Boston University researchers. That prompted assistant district attorney Patrick Haggan to dismiss it in his mind as “just a publicity stunt of some sort,” he says in the series, but he admits he “could not have been more wrong when I saw the results of his CTE.”
Boston University’s Ann McKee is seen saying at a news conference that Hernandez had unusually extensive deterioration in his frontal lobes, which are critical for judgment and decision-making.
“This would be the first case we’ve ever seen,” she said at the time, “of that kind of damage in such a young individual.”
Former Patriots teammate and fellow tight end Jermaine Wiggins makes it clear that he’s not ready to use CTE to explain away Hernandez’s actions, calling that line of reasoning “a cop-out.”
He jokingly asked his agent for a marketing deal with Smith & Wesson.
Hernandez’s agent, Brian Murphy, is heard joking with the ex-player, now in jail, “I’m still trying to get you marketing deals. It’s not so easy, man.”
As Hernandez laughs, Murphy goes on: “I talked to Nike the other day. They said it was really hard to put the Nike swooshes on orange jumpsuits.”
“Hey can you get me a Smith & Wesson deal?” Hernandez asks. He cracks up as Murphy replies, “No, I cannot get you a Smith & Wesson deal, you [expletive].”