Just weeks before hanging himself in a Massachusetts prison cell, ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez reportedly hinted about suicide in a letter to a jailhouse friend.
"I think I'm going to hang it up, LOL," Hernandez allegedly wrote to inmate Kyle Kennedy, according his lawyer.
Kennedy, who is serving an armed robbery sentence, didn't take the comments seriously at the time, Attorney Larry Army Jr. said at a news conference Wednesday.
Hernandez, 27, and Kennedy, 22, were "close friends" who spent a great deal of time together in prison and requested to be cellmates last fall, Army said. The request was denied because of the "size difference" between the two men.
Asked about the nature of his client and Hernandez's relationship, Army said "Any discussion will come directly from [Kennedy's] mouth so there's no confusion." He said Kennedy will address the extent of their relationship "At some point in time in the near future."
Army said his client was "stunned and saddened" by the news of Hernandez's suicide. "He thought it was a joke. He thought the people in the jail were playing a game because they knew the closeness of the two."
Kennedy also issued a statement of his own Wednesday, saying, "I miss my friend, Aaron Hernandez. I'd like to send my condolences to his fiancée, his mother and his daughter."
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The night before Hernandez’s suicide, Kennedy was removed from general population for a "jailhouse violation," according to Army, but he believes he was the last person to see Hernandez alive.
Investigators revealed that Hernandez left three handwritten notes in his prison cell before he hanged himself April 19. Two of the letters were addressed to family. Army said Kennedy believes the third note belongs to him and is entitled to see it.
"My client does firmly believe that one of the letters was written to him, coming from his own knowledge of the relationship he and Hernandez shared, and because someone at the jail indicated one of the letters was to him," Army said.
The note has sparked rumors and speculation about the nature of Hernandez's relationships while in custody.
During a court hearing Monday seeking copies of the letters, Hernandez attorney George Leontire said the public scrutiny was unfair to the ex-NFL player's family, who learned about the letters, Kennedy and even a rumored sexual relationship from the media.
In a statement Tuesday, Hernandez family attorney Jose Baez denied allegations of a gay relationship between Hernandez and Kennedy, and criticized the media and Army of perpetuating "malicious leaks."
"Rumors of letters to a gay lover, in or out of prison, are false,"Hernandez family attorney Jose Baez said Tuesday. "These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead. I urge anyone continuing to spread these malicious untruths to cease immediately."
The lawyer also said Hernandez had verbally promised to give Kennedy a $47,000 custom-made watch on his birthday last August, and had written letters to Hernandez's family.
"Mr. Kennedy, it's Aaron. I'm writing to you, and Pure (Kennedy's prison name) doesn't know. He is my brother and he always will be," read one letter to Kennedy's father. Army said Hernandez wrote letters to Kennedy's stepbrothers and stepsisters as well.
Kennedy is back on suicide watch, but according to Army it’s only procedural and says his client was not "a risk to himself."
Kennedy arrived at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, in 2015 after he was convicted of armed robbery. Army said he and Hernandez knew each other before that time, but would not elaborate.
Meanwhile, the Souza-Baranowski prison remains on lockdown with inmates not allowed to leave their cells and visiting hours canceled. State Department of Corrections spokesman Christopher Fallon confirmed the lockdown has been in place since Monday and will remain in effect while officials search for drugs and other contraband.
In other developments Wednesday, a Massachusetts judge scheduled arguments on a request to vacate Hernandez's conviction in the Lloyd case. Judge E. Susan Garsh announced Wednesday that she'll hold a May 9 hearing in Fall River.
On Tuesday, Hernandez's lawyers asked that his first-degree murder conviction be dismissed. The Bristol County district attorney's office, which prosecuted the case, has said it intends to challenge the request. It has until May 1 to file papers making its case. Under a long-standing Massachusetts legal principle, courts customarily vacate the convictions of defendants who die before their appeals are heard.