Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL star serving a lifetime sentence for a 2013 murder, had synthetic marijuana in his system at the time of his suicide in prison last week, Newsweek is reporting.
Hernandez, 27, was found dead in his Massachusetts prison cell on April 19, hours before his former New England Patriots teammates were to visit Donald Trump at the White House following their Super Bowl victory earlier this year. He had been serving a lifetime sentence without the possibility of parole for the murder of his friend Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player and the boyfriend of his fiancé’s sister, but had filed an appeal that was still pending at the time of his death.
As Newsweek first reported, citing anonymous police sources, a post-mortem examination revealed traces of K2, one of the many brand names under which synthetic marijuana is sold. According to the magazine, fellow prison inmates told investigators that “Hernandez may have been high on K2 the morning he killed himself.”
The discovery triggered a Massachusetts State Police raid of the prison where Hernandez was held and a subsequent search for contraband, including K2.
On the outside, synthetic marijuana—including K2, Spice and other names under which the drug is sold—consists of synthetic cannabinoids sprayed onto plant material and often sold as “incense” or “potpourri.” Common side effects of consumption include lethargy, heart palpitations and psychosis. In some cases, synthetic marijuana has been blamed for leaving its users in “zombie-like” catatonic states.
According to Newsweek, fake weed makes its way into prison when edges of a piece of paper, are dipped in liquid K2 or Spice and then mailed to a prisoner as a letter. State police investigators were searching the prison for other pieces of paper soaked in the drug, the magazine reported.
Hernandez made extensive preparations prior to killing himself, according to investigators. The 27-year old jammed his cell door with cardboard to thwart any potential interruptions from guards; he slicked the floor of his cell with soap, in order to prevent any last-second change of his own mind; and he wrote a Bible verse on his forehead in red ink, which he also used to draw circles on his hands, in apparent imitation of the stigmata (for non-Christians: the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion).
He also left three letters: one for his fiancé, who is also the mother of his child; one for the child; and another for a fellow inmate, who—some news sources are reporting—was Hernandez’s prison lover.
Hernandez had just been exonerated of a second double-murder charger prior to his suicide. His family has since petitioned to have his conviction vacated, on the grounds that his appeal had yet to be heard.
While not yet a widely reported problem in American prisons, correctional facilities in the UK are “awash” in synthetic marijuana, where the drug has been blamed for causing “self-harm” among inmates, as the Guardian reported last year. At least one prisoner, accused of killing his cellmate, had the charge reduced to a lesser offense on account of “diminished capacity” due to smoking synthetic marijuana.
“Our prisons are awash with synthetic cannabis, and prisoners are so out of their heads they don’t know what they are doing sometimes,” an official representing prison guards told the newspaper. “They are a danger to themselves, they’re attacking staff, and they are attacking other prisoners.”
So why do prisoners use synthetic marijuana, rather than smuggle in the real stuff? The simple reason is because drug tests don’t detect it, meaning an inmate can use it to his heart’s content—or the ruin of his mind and body—and never risk punishment. Compare that to the risk carried by cannabis use, which can lead to the cancellation of privileges or a visit to solitary confinement.
Did Spice push Hernandez to kill himself?
It’s a fair question. More relevant now is to what extent prison policies in the U.S. and U.K. are pushing inmates to use what all health experts agree is a dangerous drug with side effects far, far worse than real cannabis.