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Judge orders evidence preserved in Hernandez prison suicide

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, Pool, File)

By MICHELLE R. SMITH


Associated Press

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) A judge on Friday ordered key evidence in the prison suicide of Aaron Hernandez preserved, granting a request from the ex-NFL star's fiancee so the family can investigate the circumstances of his death.

Bristol Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire's ruling includes video recordings of Hernandez's cell for the eight hours before he was found hanged, records of where Hernandez was during that time and all of his property, including his writings. Authorities say he left three notes next to a Bible in his cell.

McGuire's order also covers recordings of his phone calls for 30 days before his death. But the judge declined to include recordings of other inmates' phone calls - something that George Leontire, a lawyer for Hernandez's fiancee, had requested.

The fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, had filed court papers on behalf of Hernandez's estate, asking that prison officials be barred from altering or destroying any potential evidence. She wasn't present for Friday's hearing.

The former New England Patriots tight end was found hanged in his cell in a maximum-security prison early Wednesday. He was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, who had been dating Jenkins Hernandez's sister.

Leontire was harshly critical of state authorities. Hernandez's family, he said, still doesn't know what was in the notes he left behind and was learning disturbing details about Hernandez's death from news reports and on Twitter.

A physician retained by the family told The Associated Press he performed an independent autopsy on Hernandez's body Thursday. Dr. Michael Baden said Friday he won't discuss his findings until outside labs finish a toxicology report and a study of Hernandez's brain.

Scientists at Boston University are studying the brain for signs of repeated trauma suffered by his years of playing football.

Also Friday, Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward, told reporters in Boston she still forgives Hernandez and prays he found peace. But she also acknowledged that his suicide had opened painful wounds and that she still feels a "tremendous loss."

"I lost my son, the love of my life," Ward said. "I'll never ever see him again."

Ward's lawyer, Doug Sheff, said he issued "a friendly challenge" to the New England Patriots and the NFL Players Association to voluntarily release whatever money Hernandez might still be owed so a court can decide who should get it. Ward has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit that seeks unspecified damages from Hernandez's estate.

Sheff said he thinks the team might have owed Hernandez up to $6 million. The suit seeks to recover that plus proceeds from the eventual sale of Hernandez's $1.3 million home, a Hummer and any other assets.

Asked if he believed Hernandez had any money actually left after years of litigation, Sheff replied: "Good question. We wonder that ourselves." The Patriots did not immediately react to his request.

Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet Wednesday, days after being acquitted in a 2012 double homicide case.

Another of Hernandez's lawyers said that he would ask a court to have that murder conviction erased. John Thompson said Friday he would file the necessary paperwork in Bristol County, the jurisdiction where Hernandez was tried and convicted in 2015.

Thompson didn't say when he'll file the request. The district attorney would be able to challenge it.

Courts in Massachusetts and a number of other states customarily vacate the convictions of defendants who die before their appeals are heard.

All first-degree murder convictions in Massachusetts trigger an automatic appeal. Hernandez's appeal was still in its early stages and hadn't yet been heard when he hanged himself.

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Associated Press writers Philip Marcelo and Collin Binkley in Boston contributed to this report.

Updated April 21, 2017

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