State officials have stayed mostly mum as rumors and conspiracy theories about the death of Aaron Hernandez in state prison last week continue to swirl. And there’s probably some logic to that hesitancy: With an ongoing investigation into the chain of events leading up to the former NFL star’s death, there are limits on what public safety officials can say.
But in this case, they’d be better off erring on the side of disclosure.
Hernandez was found dead in his cell at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center last week, and his death was ruled a suicide. He was in state prison for the murder of Dorchester man Odin Lloyd. But his conviction in that case was under appeal, and he had just been acquitted in two other killings, leaving relatives mystified about why he would have killed himself.
Putting aside Hernandez’s celebrity status, there’s a legitimate public interest in the circumstances of his death. “Any time anybody kills themselves in a prison, something clearly went wrong,” Governor Charlie Baker said last week. Indeed: Massachusetts still has an unacceptably high rate of prison suicide.
Eventually, the public needs a full accounting of what lapses, if any, led to Hernandez’s death. There may be rules or procedures that the prison needs to tighten.
The danger is that the soap-opera-worthy rumors about Hernandez distract from the serious nature of the incident. Although major media outlets have mostly refrained from reporting on them in detail, those reports have gained wide enough circulation that state officials should address them.
That’s not to say every prurient curiosity needs to be satisfied. But it would be useful for the state to clarify what it’s found in the case so far, and what it hasn’t. That’s especially true since law enforcement leaks seem to be fueling at least some of the chatter.
All the rumor and innuendo on talk radio about the Hernandez case could be true. Or it might all be false. It may relevant to his death, and it might not.
The bottom line is that a prisoner died on the state’s watch. To the extent that details of Hernandez’s personal life might help explain what led to that sad outcome, they are important to learn. Bringing some clarity to what the state knows about the rumors about Hernandez — either by confirming or refuting them — would help clear the way to focus on what really matters in the investigation of his death.