An archaic quirk of Massachusetts law nearly absolved Aaron Hernandez of murder because he died while the case was pending on appeal. The new Netflix documentary regarding Hernandez tries, in roundabout fashion, to do what Massachusetts ultimately didn’t.
That’s my takeaway from the meandering, three-part look at the life, the lives taken, and the death of Hernandez. While the effort to excuse his murder of Odin Lloyd and the accused drive-by shooting deaths of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu isn’t overt, the documentary sprinkles various alternative explanations and excuses for what could be the simple fact that Hernandez was an evil, entitled, and deranged sociopath who believed he could kill without consequence.
Whether it’s the unexpected death of his father (i.e., if his father had lived Hernandez’s life wouldn’t have taken a dark turn), his mother taking up with the spouse of his beloved cousin (i.e., the blatant example of betrayal screwed Hernandez up even further), his homosexuality (i.e., he was angry all the time because he wanted to hide and repress it), his drug use (i.e., the habit put him in the company of criminals), his return to the New England area for the launch of his pro career (i.e., he was too close to the people who led him down the wrong path), his lawyers’ flawed tactics in the Lloyd case (i.e., if Hernandez had Jose Baez defending him in both cases, Hernandez may have been exonerated), and/or football (i.e., CTE contributed to his murderous rages), the documentary attempts to make the viewer think that Hernandez was just one or two twists of fate from never having killed Odin Lloyd, never having gone to prison, never having taken his own life there.
The deeper unspoken message is that a similar chain of events could otherwise derail the life of any normal, All-American kid.
It’s a tough sell. But the documentary definitely tries to do it, from wedging into the narrative former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan (who comments on the stress of concealing homosexuality) and former NFL player Chris Borland (who famously retired after only one year due to concerns over concussions). Neither had any connection whatsoever to Hernandez. O’Callaghan played for the Patriots, but he was gone from the NFL before Hernandez was even drafted. Ditto for Borland, whose one-year career happened in 2014, while Hernandez was awaiting trial for the Lloyd murder. But their stories help give credence to the vague notion that homosexuality and/or head injuries helped turn a regular guy into a murderer.
For those who knew little or nothing about the Hernandez case, the documentary easily could create confusion regarding how the story unfolded and, as to some of the material included in the series, the point of it. For those who knew the situation well, there wasn’t much that was new, other than Hernandez’s love of Harry Potter books and the aborted efforts by prosecutors in the Furtado/de Abreu case to bolster a flimsy motive by arguing that Hernandez’s short fuse came from his repressed homosexuality.
Perhaps the most compelling moment comes when the prosecution in the Lloyd case calls Patriots owner Robert Kraft to testify, and Hernandez immediately adopts the anxious demeanor of a child who got in trouble at school and was told by his mother, “Wait ’til your father gets home.” Maybe in those chillingly sad images of Hernandez repeatedly looking back to the doors to the courtroom, waiting for Kraft to enter, some of the threads of quasi-justification gain some credence. Even though Hernandez killed Lloyd, probably killed Furtado and de Abreu (the acquittal came days before Hernandez’s suicide), and shot Alexander Bradley in the face and left him to die, maybe with the right guidance and discipline Hernandez wouldn’t have embarked on a path that ended four lives, and that irreparably harmed many others.
Again, it’s a tough sell. Hernandez, by all appearances and indications, was a bad guy who knew how to flip the switch back and forth when it suited his interests to do so. While it’s impossible to find a smoking gun that would absolve him from using the literally smoking gun, the ensuing collection of speculative theories aimed at excusing his behavior is far more frustrating than informative.