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By the time that Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his jail cell in April 2017, he had few people in his corner.
The 27-year-old former NFL star hadn’t heard from his football teammates in years. The only people outside the jail with whom he had regular contact was his attorney, Jose Baez, and his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins. When he died by suicide, he left notes for the two of them, as well as another for his daughter, Avielle Jenkins-Hernandez, now 5.
It was a dark end for Hernandez. Once a celebrated tight end for the New England Patriots, Hernandez was arrested and charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional player who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée in 2013.
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Two years later, Hernandez was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. While on trial in Lloyd’s slaying, he was also indicted for a 2012 double homicide. He hired Baez, who won an acquittal in the second case — and began the appeal process for the first murder conviction.
Days later, Hernandez was dead, and his death was ruled a suicide.
With the family’s blessing, Baez has released a book about Hernandez’s legal troubles and final days. The book, Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez, has hit the New York Times bestseller list.
Baez, 49, tells PEOPLE that a lot of his conversations with Hernandez went far beyond the standard attorney-client discussions about his case. “It turned into a big brother type of relationship,” Baez says. “I got to see him with his qualities and his flaws. I saw the tough guy mask, but around me, he was always just a big goofy kid.”
The two men would talk about sports. “I told him that I had played baseball and football when I was younger,” Baez says. “And he asked me, ‘Were you any good?’ And I said, ‘Hell yeah. I was really fast.’ He didn’t believe me.”
So Hernandez bet Baez that he couldn’t run a 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds. (Hernandez’s time had been 4.64 seconds.)
Baez began training in earnest. “It took me a month and a half, but I wanted to do it for Aaron,” he says. “And then I finally did it. And I had it videotaped so I could show it to him.” (The video is below.)
But it wasn’t meant to be. Before Baez could show Hernandez the video, the former football player was dead. “It was really a blow,” says Baez. “I wanted to show it to him. It was a way to keep his mind off everything else that was going on.”
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