TV Review – Aaron Hernandez Uncovered
On April 19, 2017, news reported that Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in his prison cell. Hernandez was a NFL player for the New England Patriots who was convicted of murder in 2015. He had a second murder trial of which he was acquitted. However, his acquittal came five days before his suicide. In the year leading up to his acquittal, the culture had been discussing two properties in TV and film about O. J. Simpson, another former NFL player who was put on trial for murder too, basically twice, acquitted criminally but convicted civilly. There was in that vein a lot of similarities that made the Hernandez case a media sensation. It wasn’t quite the trial of the century as the Simpson trial was. It didn’t touch upon big issues like racism and celebrity, but looking a little deeper into the case, the Hernandez trial did have the trappings of a Shakespeare tragedy and did touch upon some smaller issues like homophobia in ways that are unexpected and surprising. As such, I’d like Ryan Murphy to do a season of American Crime Story on Aaron Hernandez like he did with O. J. Simpson in the first season or even the killer of Gianni Versace in the second season.
This documentary pretty methodically and as thoroughly as possible goes through Hernandez’s life with interviews with as many people close to him as were available. This includes Shayanna Jenkins, his high school girlfriend and fiancée. There’s also Brandon Spikes, his best friend, as well as Alyssa Anderson, his college girlfriend. This documentary also includes interviews with two of Hernandez’s defense attorneys. The first is Jose Baez and the second is George Leontire. They provide the arguments as to why Hernandez shouldn’t have been convicted, not necessarily as to why he’s innocent. They also provide information about the homophobia that was at play in the court system, as well as around the Boston area.
Other interviews with newspaper and TV reporters also help to narrate or add context to the biography of Aaron Hernandez here. What we see is that Hernandez seemingly had a good life in Bristol, Connecticut, but there are hints of abuse and molestation into which the documentary doesn’t really delve. The movie also doesn’t really delve too much into Hernandez’s family, other than he had a brother and a father who both played football too. Yet, the movie rather quickly skips over them and his childhood in general, which could have provided valuable insight.
At one point, we see that Hernandez gets a huge tattoo on his back of Jesus Christ, which indicates a strong faith or connection to religion. Given the homophobia he would face, it’s a wonder if he first experienced it through his religion where a lot of homophobia originates. It’s never stated, for example, if Hernandez’s family were very religious, meaning if they took Hernandez to church regularly or not and what their views were on homosexuality. Prior to the reveal that Hernandez was secretly gay to the news media, there’s no question posed to either his fiancée Jenkins or best friend Spikes about any possible signs or what their religious views are.
On June 17, 2013, the body of Odin Lloyd, age 27, was found shot dead at a construction site in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. Lloyd was a semi-pro football player and also the de facto brother-in-law to Hernandez. Lloyd was dating the sister of Jenkins, which made this case quasi-Shakespearean. This documentary follows the police investigation leading to the arrest of Hernandez on June 26 and the eventual murder trial, which began on January 9, 2015. What’s interesting is that at the time, Hernandez allegedly had two accessories to the crime, two guys who are still alive but in prison and on whom the defense wanted to throw suspicion. The movie takes us through all of this in good fashion, which is never boring and on par with any great true-crime show in the past few years.
On July 16, 2012, a year before the death of Odin Lloyd, two Hispanic immigrants were both killed in a drive-by shooting in the South End of Boston. The two victims were Daniel de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28. This case probably would have gone unsolved, if not for another incident six months or so later.
On June 13, 2013, four days before the death of Odin Lloyd, Alexander S. Bradley filed a lawsuit against Hernandez where he claimed that Hernandez had shot him in a car and then left him on the side of the I-95 in Miami, Florida, back on February 13 of that year. Allegedly, Hernandez shot Bradley because Bradley was a witness who could identify Hernandez as the killer of the two immigrants. Bradley was allegedly the driver of the car that Hernandez rode when he did the drive-by shooting. The only problem for the prosecution was that Bradley was a convicted drug dealer.
Nevertheless, the trial about the killings of Abreu and Furtado began on March 1, 2017. Baez was Hernandez’s attorney along with Leontire. A sticking point in the case and in the previous was motive. What was it that pushed Hernandez to kill these people? It was during this trial though that prosecutors were on the verge of a theory as to motive, a pretty preposterous theory.
Hernandez had told his college girlfriend, Anderson, through a series of letters he wrote to her in prison that he was gay. It wasn’t exactly clear how the prosecutors were going to link his sexuality to the crimes, but, according to Leontire who is himself openly gay, the prosecutors were going to raise his homosexuality in court and argue it fueled his rage or was somehow his motivation for murder.
What it seemed is the prosecution was on the verge of something akin or derivative of the gay panic defense, which is outlawed in only two states but is against the recommendation of the American Bar Association because it is the definition of homophobia. Usually though, it’s a defense made for heterosexuals accused of killing gay people. Technically, the term could apply to closeted homosexuals, which Hernandez was, but what was suggested here is a kind of reversal of the gay panic defense, a kind of gay panic offense, which either way is derogatory.
Unfortunately, this movie never interviews the prosecutors in Hernandez’s trial, so we’re never made aware of what their strategy or line of thinking was. It wouldn’t matter too much because any line of thinking that attempts to use being gay as the motivation for a crime like murder is offensive and requires a mountain to climb first.
Yet, that wasn’t the only homophobia that Hernandez faced. It’s speculated that the prosecutors realized that they couldn’t use Hernandez’s sexuality in court, so they instead decided to leak it to the press or allegedly to one specific reporter, Michele McPhee who announced it live on the radio, four days before Hernandez committed suicide. It’s not to suggest that McPhee or even the WEEI radio personalities are bigots, but they did make gay jokes, which to some were probably in poor taste, if not homophobic. However, these kinds of outings have lead to suicides even for people who weren’t as famous and as rich as Hernandez.
The final piece is the issue of CTE or the problems laid out in the Will Smith film Concussion (2015). The movie doesn’t give us too much, but reportedly Hernandez had one of the worse cases of CTE, or brain damage, that has ever been documented thus far. In retrospect, Baez saw it as a legal defense for Hernandez. This movie isn’t totally in the bag for the Puerto Rican, 6-foot-2, 245-pound, tight end. Plenty of people here believe he was guilty and CTE or not didn’t excuse his actions. The movie also doesn’t lose sight of the victims, particularly Odin Lloyd. There are perfectly reasonable people who can be sympathetic in certain regards but still see Hernandez as a killer. The movie is balanced and objective in that way.
Running Time: 2 hrs. / 2 eps.