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Aaron Hernandez's family seek answers over apparent suicide in prison

Aaron Hernandez's apparent suicide in prison - just days after the former NFL star was cleared of additional murder charges - remains shrouded in mystery.

Authorities have offered few answers since Hernandez was found in his cell in a maximum-security prison in Massachusetts, where he was serving a life sentence for the 2013 killing of a friend.

His death came hours before his former New England Patriots team-mates visited the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl victory.

And the 27-year-old died five days after a jury acquitted him in the 2012 deaths of two men he was alleged to have gunned down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him at a Boston nightclub.

The apparent suicide left friends, family and his legal team shocked and in disbelief. Many are searching for an explanation to the tragic end of a young man whose football skills at one point earned him a five-year, 40 million US dollars (£31 million) contract extension with the NFL's top franchise.

"There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible," his lawyer Jose Baez said.

"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."

Guards found Hernandez shortly after 3am local time on Wednesday at the state prison in Shirley. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead about an hour later.

Correction Department spokesman Christopher Fallon said he was not aware of any suicide note and officials had no reason to believe Hernandez was suicidal. If they had been, he would have been transferred to a mental health unit, Mr Fallon added.

The district attorney's office and the Correction Department are investigating, and Massachusetts' chief medical examiner is conducting a post-mortem examination.

The Patriots had no immediate comment, and President Donald Trump made no mention of Hernandez at the White House event.

A star tight end for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name had also come up in an investigation into a shooting.

Still, he was a productive tight end for the Patriots for three seasons. He caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in his second year to help the team reach the Super Bowl.

But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested over the killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Last week, Hernandez was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston. As the jury deliberated, cameras spied Hernandez blowing kisses to the young daughter he fathered with fiancee Shayanna Jenkins.

In the area where Mr Lloyd grew up, a family friend of the victim wondered if Hernandez could no longer bear the weight of his crime and his squandered potential.

"I just think it got to him - the guilt," Mixson Philip said. "Each man has to live with himself. You can put on an act like nothing happened, but you've got a soul. You've got a heart."

AP

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