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Hernandez’s fiancee may sue prison for failing to prevent suicide

The family of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star who committed suicide in his cell in the state’s maximum-security prison this week, does not know what is contained in three suicide notes he left before dying.
The family of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star who committed suicide in his cell in the state’s maximum-security prison this week, does not know what is contained in three suicide notes he left before dying.

NEW BEDFORD — A Bristol Superior Court judge on Friday ordered the Department of Correction to preserve evidence related to the death of Aaron Hernandez, while an attorney for the former Patriots star’s fiancee said she may file a negligence lawsuit against state prison officials for failing to prevent his suicide.

Meanwhile, details emerged about two of the three letters left behind by the 27-year-old Hernandez, who was found hanging Wednesday in his cell at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center.

Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, addressed two of the letters found in his cell to his 4-year-old daughter and to his fiancee, according to two law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation.


Also on Friday, the attorney for Lloyd’s mother challenged the Patriots to become “champions of justice” by agreeing to pay $6 million to Hernandez’s estate, a move that would make that money available to Lloyd’s family.

Lawyers for the family say the $6 million may be owed to the estate under the terms of Hernandez’s player contract. A spokesman for the Patriots declined to comment.

Hernandez’s suicide came just five days after a Suffolk County jury acquitted him in another murder case, in which he was accused of killing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a drive-by shooting in Boston in July 2012.

Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early’s office said in a statement Thursday that Hernandez had been locked inside his cell at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and no one else entered it until a guard forced his way in at 3:03 a.m. Hernandez had jammed the door to keep would-be rescuers out, officials have said.

In Bristol County Superior Court on Friday, an attorney representing Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, said the family was concerned about the investigation into Hernandez’s death, and requested an order requiring the Department of Correction to preserve evidence.


“We are very concerned about the loss of evidence in this case,” said attorney George Leontire.

Leontire said that Jenkins-Hernandez, who is the personal representative of Hernandez’s estate and the mother of his daughter, could bring a civil action against the state for “negligent supervision or negligence” in his death.

He charged that the time lag between checks Tuesday night into Wednesday morning was an “extraordinary violation” of department procedure.

Leontire told the court that Early’s office indicated there was “no check of Mr. Hernandez’s cell” between 8 p.m. and 3:03 a.m. However, the statement from Early’s office said only that no one entered the cell during that time.

“There is some discussion — again, these are leaks, I don’t know if they’re true or not — that the guard who failed to check Mr. Hernandez during that period of time has been put on some sort of disciplinary action or leave. I don’t know,” Leontire said.

The Department of Correction and the correctional officers’ union did not respond to inquiries about possible discipline of the guard.

Leontire wrote in an earlier court filing that Hernandez’s family plans to investigate all the circumstances of his death. He said Friday that a second, independent autopsy was conducted Thursday, and Hernandez’s family is awaiting the results.

The lawyer also lashed out at state officials for leaking information about Hernandez’s purported suicide notes “and all these other salacious things” to the media, without contacting his family first.


“We don’t know the status of those suicide notes,” Leontire said. “We don’t know what those suicide notes say, if they are suicide notes.”

Mary Murray, a Department of Correction lawyer, said there was no need for a court order preserving evidence, since prison officials are conducting an internal inquiry on Hernandez’s death and the items are being safeguarded during that process.

But Judge Thomas McGuire sided with Leontire.

In a three-page order issued immediately after the hearing, McGuire ordered the department to preserve a slew of items, including: Hernandez’s property in the cell and his writings; the sheets and ligature found in the cell; photographs of the cell; Hernandez’s medical and mental health records; recordings of calls Hernandez made during the month leading up to his death; and records of forensic tests and witness interviews concerning Hernandez’s death.

Hours before the Bristol court hearing, Ursula Ward, the mother of Odin Lloyd, who was killed by Hernandez in 2013, held a tearful press conference with her attorney Douglas K. Sheff, during which they urged the Patriots to voluntarily give $6 million to Hernandez’s estate.

Sheff said Hernandez already has been ruled legally responsible for Lloyd’s death in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the Lloyd family. The only outstanding issue in the lawsuit, he said, is how much the family will recover from Hernandez’s estate.

The Patriots severed all ties with Hernandez after his arrest in Lloyd’s death. But the suicide came before his case was reviewed by an appellate court, which may wipe clear the conviction and, some have speculated, may clear the way for the Patriots to resume payments that some media reports put as high as $6 million.


Other experts interviewed by the Globe say Hernandez’s estate would be unable to collect a payment, because he was in breach of his contract.

Sheff said if the Patriots made a payment, they could become “champions of justice.’’

“I want to issue a very friendly challenge to the New England Patriots, the best team, the best team in the NFL. Nothing like them. Nothing like them,’’ Sheff said.

Ward, who forgave Hernandez for murdering her son after he was found guilty in his trial, said she held no ill will toward Hernandez after his prison death.

“I pray to God his soul is at peace,’’ she said. “I pray he finds comfort. I pray he finds peace.”

Ward said she was pushing forward with the lawsuit because it could help her family financially and because she hopes to fund scholarships in her son’s name, as well as provide support for families of other homicide victims whose deaths do not get media coverage.

“I lost my best friend,’’ she said. “I am not going to lie to you, it will help. . . . But even if there’s not a penny, it has nothing to do with my justice for Odin Lloyd.’’

Ben Volin of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Evan Allen can be reached at Travis Andersen can be reached at John R. Ellement can be reached at