Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, pictured in December 2012, was serving a life sentence in prison for murdering Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player in June 2013Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, pictured in December 2012, was serving a life sentence in prison for murdering Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player in June 2013 (AFP Photo/Jim ROGASH)
New York (AFP) - Former American football star and convicted killer Aaron Hernandez was found dead in prison on Wednesday after hanging himself with a bedsheet in his cell.
His death ended a spectacular fall from grace for a man who signed a $40 million contract in 2012 with this year's reigning Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, after a troubled upbringing in Connecticut.
The 27-year-old was discovered hanging in his cell by corrections officers in Shirley, Massachusetts at approximately 3:05 am (0705 GMT), said Christopher Fallon with the Massachusetts Department of Correction.
He died almost exactly two years after he was sentenced to life without parole for murdering a semi-pro football player in 2013 and five days after he was acquitted of double murder in a separate Boston killing in 2012.
Hernandez hanged himself with a bedsheet that he had attached to his cell window and attempts to revive him were not successful, Fallon said.
"Mr Hernandez also attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door with various items," he added.
The former NFL star was rushed to a hospital, where a doctor pronounced him dead at approximately 4:07 am (0807 GMT).
Hernandez's family and legal team said they were "shocked" by his death, calling for a transparent and thorough investigation.
- Crimes tarnish NFL image -
The one-time Patriots tight end was in a solitary cell in general population housing and had not been considered at risk of suicide.
"There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible," said a statement released by his lawyer Jose Baez.
"Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence. Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death."
Hernandez leaves behind a four-year-old daughter and a fiancee.
There was no comment from the Patriots, who were on Wednesday welcomed to the White House by President Donald Trump as the winners of the premier American football championship.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has enraged some fans for apparently being friends with Trump, skipped the event, attributing his absence to "some personal family matters." Brady also skipped a similar visit with Barack Obama in 2015.
A handful of other Patriots players had already opted out of the trip, some citing political differences with the Republican commander-in-chief.
Hernandez's death swung the spotlight back on a long line of crimes to tarnish the image of the NFL, most infamously by star running back O.J. Simpson.
In a sensational trial broadcast live on television, Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994 but is now in jail, convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in 2008.
- Mixed reactions -
A database of arrests involving NFL players compiled by USA Today has logged 854 cases dating back to 2000.
Brent Schrotenboer, the journalist who created the database, told AFP in 2015 that the overall NFL crime rate was around two percent, below around four percent for the general population.
Hernandez had numerous run-ins with the law during his college football career at the University of Florida.
In June 2013, Odin Lloyd's bloodied body was found less than a mile from Hernandez's luxury Massachusetts home. The two men had been dating sisters.
The murder weapon was never discovered, but analysts said the evidence against Hernandez was overwhelming. Last Friday, Hernandez wept openly as he was acquitted of earlier Boston murders.
Reaction to his death was mixed. Some fans expressed shock over the timing, others mourned the downfall of a former talent or condemned a convicted murderer.
A 2015 Department of Justice report said suicide accounted for 34 percent of all deaths in jail in 2013, and had been the leading cause of death since 2000.
Suicide in 2016 surged to the highest levels in the United States in nearly 30 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.