Dead ‘innocent’

In “The Penalty for Holding” (Less Than Three Press, May 10) – the second novel in my series “The Games Men Play” – quarterback Quinn Novak wonders which is more depressing: prison or a hospital.

I think on this day you would have to say prison, for today in the season of greatest hope, 27-year-old former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found hanged in his cell in the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass., around 3 a.m. – an apparent suicide.

How sad. How utterly sad.

I know, I know: He was serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Odin L. Lloyd, the boyfriend of his fiancée’s sister. On Friday, he was acquitted in another murder case. Where’s my love for the victim? posters would ask. Where’s my taxpayer gloating over one less prisoner on the government dime?

But it’s possible to feel compassion for the victim and his murderer, just as it’s possible to think that a killer’s death does not enrich me but leaves me poorer still.

Last Friday, I watched footage of Hernandez’s acquittal in the second murder trial and thought, What a waste of lives – the victims but also his. And what anguish you’d have to know to take a life – yours or someone else’s.

It’s tragic to be unable to rise above an impoverished life. But it’s far more tragic to rise above it only to drag yourself back to the soul’s gutter. Did Hernandez think that? (He left no note.) But he did kill himself on the day that many of his Super Bowl-winning teammates were set to be feted by President Donald J. Trump at the White House. Did he think, That should be me but for what I’ve done?

Suicide always begs the question, Why? I don’t think suicides want to die. I think they want not to live as they are. Perhaps with irrevocable life imprisonment in a troubled maximum-security prison stretching before him like a vast wasteland – the facility is where John J. Geoghan, a Roman Catholic priest convicted of molesting scores of children, was murdered in 2003 – Hernandez reached the tipping point of the life he didn’t want to live. Just as the kid from the tough Bristol, Conn. neighborhood couldn’t walk away from a trigger temper and being dissed. Prosecutors said Hernandez killed Lloyd because he didn’t like the people he was talking with in a bar.

Seriously? I always tell anyone who will listen: You don’t like someone, you’re hurt at being dissed, walk away. You don’t know if someone is nuts or has a gun. Walk away.

You want revenge. Live well. Live to fight another day. Make yourself the success your enemies will envy.

Now Hernandez is beyond that choice. But in death he may have had his revenge. By some weird twist of fate and law, his murder conviction has been nullified, because he didn’t live to complete the appeals process.

This may not protect his estate from civil suits. But the man who may have murdered because his name was dishonored clears that name by dying too soon.

In death, he becomes an innocent man.