Metro

Prison probe surrounding Aaron Hernandez’s death focuses on contraband

Aaron Hernandez.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File
Aaron Hernandez.

An investigation triggered by the death of Aaron J. Hernandez now involves a search for contraband inside the prison where he hanged himself, officials said Tuesday, while his family took steps to overturn his 2015 murder conviction and beat back media reports and rumors about the New England Patriots star’s life behind bars.

Nearly a week after Hernandez was found dead in his cell, the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley remained on lockdown, with prisoners kept in their cells 24 hours a day and no visiting hours, a Department of Correction spokesman said in an e-mail.

A state public safety spokesman did not specify what materials the investigation is focusing on, and did not disclose what, if any, contraband had been found inside Hernandez’s cell to spawn the prison-wide search.

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But lawyers who represent clients inside Souza-Baranowski and other Massachusetts prisons say drugs are routinely smuggled into the facility, and some suggested that illicit drugs are probably at the center of this inquiry. At a court hearing over the notes and other writings found in Hernandez’s cell, Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett said Hernandez’s toxicology report was not yet available.

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“The drugs are flowing inside the jail like someone opened a faucet,” said Boston lawyer Geoffrey Nathan. His clients, he said, have told him getting potent drugs is even easier inside the prison than in the world at large. But the problem, Nathan said, is not unique to Souza-Baranowski. “There’s only so much that the jail can do.”

A public safety spokesman said officials are undertaking “a general contraband search that applies to the entire institution.”

Investigators so far have released few details about what was found inside Hernandez’s cell.

A spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said Tuesday that, in addition to three handwritten notes addressed to specific people, Hernandez, 27, left behind “some writings” that were shared with his family Monday.

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Early’s office provided copies of the letters and other writings to George Leontire, the New Bedford attorney who went to court Monday morning demanding that the information be shared with Hernandez’s family before his funeral that afternoon.

A spokesman for Early declined to describe the content of the other writings, but said they contained “several pages’’ that were not addressed in the same manner as the three notes found by investigators next to Hernandez’s Bible in his cell.

The spokesman also declined to name the three people whose names were on the handwritten notes.

The Globe has reported that two of the letters were written to Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, and the couple’s daughter. But the recipient of the third letter has been the subject of swirling speculation and unconfirmed reports.

On Monday, Larry Army Jr., a lawyer representing an inmate who media reports have alleged was involved in a sexual relationship with Hernandez, said a letter had been left to his client, who was “saddened by the loss of his friend,” according to an e-mailed statement.

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The statement did not further describe the nature of their relationship, and it was not clear how the inmate or his lawyer would have learned of such a letter.

But on Tuesday, Hernandez lawyer Jose Baez rebutted that statement and tried to combat rumors about his client’s sexual orientation. In an e-mailed statement, Baez said “no such letter’’ to the inmate “or any other individual, in or out of prison, exists.”

Another person close to the investigation said none of the papers found in Hernandez’s cell contained the inmate’s name.

Hernandez’s lawyers have also formally launched an effort to void his first-degree murder conviction, a move made legally possible by the suicide of the former New England Patriots star, while his case was still on appeal. Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet in his prison cell last week.

In paperwork filed in Bristol Superior Court, Hernandez’s court-appointed criminal appellate lawyers invoked longstanding law as they requested that a judge wipe out his conviction for murdering Odin L. Lloyd in North Attleborough in 2013.

Springfield attorney John M. Thompson filed the paperwork Monday, the same day that Hernandez’s family and friends gathered in a Bristol, Conn., funeral home for services.

Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III said in a statement Tuesday that he would oppose the request.

“We have been reviewing the matter and intend to file an opposition to the defense motion within the next week,’’ Quinn spokesman Gregg Miliote wrote in an e-mail.

Massachusetts law provides for “abatement ab initio,” which means that upon a person’s death, if they have not exhausted their legal appeals, their case reverts to its status at the beginning.

It’s as if the trial and conviction never happened, Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel to the Massachusetts Bar Association, recently told the Globe.

The two-page court filing by Hernandez’s lawyers cited a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling. “When a defendant dies while his conviction is on direct review, it is our practice to vacate the judgment and remand the case with a direction to dismiss the complaint or indictment, thus abating the entire prosecution,’’ the state high court wrote in the decision.

Hernandez was serving a life sentence without parole for murdering Lloyd. He was rushed from the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center to the UMass-Memorial Health Alliance Hospital in Leominster, where he was pronounced dead last Thursday.

The state medical examiner has ruled that he committed suicide by asphyxiation, according to his death certificate filed in court.

Hernandez’s death came just days after he had been acquitted in a second case, the double murder of two Boston men in 2012.

His lawyers in that case have questioned whether he committed suicide. At their request, a judge has ordered the state to maintain the evidence found during their investigation at the prison.

Jim O’Sullivan and Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.