Judge orders Hernandez evidence preserved; family may sue for negligence

In-Depth Coverage: Aaron Hernandez case »

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — A Bristol County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of the fiancee of the late Aaron Hernandez, ordering to preserve evidence in his suicide.

In the meantime, attorneys for the family said they’re contemplating taking action against the Massachusetts Department of Correction for negligence.

Hernandez, 27, was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell early Wednesday morning and was pronounced dead a short time later. He had been serving a life sentence for a 2013 murder conviction and was acquitted in a separate double murder just days prior.

Authorities said Hernandez was locked in his cell at about 8 p.m. Tuesday and no one entered his cell until a guard saw him just after 3 a.m. Wednesday. The family’s legal team called the seven-hour window of not checking on Hernandez an “extraordinary violation” of policy.

Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez filed court papers Thursday seeking to bar prison officials from discarding or destroying evidence relevant to Hernandez’s death. According to court documents, the complaint states the plaintiffs plan to investigate all of the circumstances of Hernandez’s death and say the evidence is crucial to “a full, complete and transparent investigation.”

Mary Murray, attorney for the Department of Corrections, questioned the plaintiffs’ claims of irreparable harm by state officials.

“He has offered no basis to the court to conclude that public officials – acting in the performance of their official duties – will do anything other than comply with the law,” she said.

Hernandez’s legal team also said officials failed to tell the family about the circumstances of his death.

“It’s all well and good to stand here before the court and tell us how they’re going to cooperate,” said attorney George Leontire, “yet in the time that was most important, after this man’s death, not a phone call, not an email.”

The judge did not rule on the Hernandez team’s request to tour the prison cell.

While the autopsy revealed the manner of death was suicide, Hernandez’s attorney in the double murder trial, Jose Baez, announced he’ll be conducting an independent investigation. 

Jenkins-Hernandez was not present in court for the hearing on Friday. Her legal team said she’s formally been placed in charge of Hernandez’s estate.