'The most astonishing story,' Jose Baez discusses Aaron Hernandez saga in new book

Attorney says former NFL player's case much different than Casey Anthony trial

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Central Florida attorney Jose Baez, best known for convincing a jury to acquit Casey Anthony of allegedly killing her daughter, has written a new book about his most recent high-profile client, former NFL player Aaron Hernandez.

"Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez" provides new insight into the athlete who committed suicide days after a jury acquitted him of double murder.

"People think he was just some hot head who had it all and threw it away," Baez said. "That's not the case at all."

At the time he hired Baez, Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

"Aaron had heard of me and he wrote me a letter when he was in prison," said Baez, who has included a copy of that message in his new book.

Besides appealing the prior murder conviction, Hernandez also needed an attorney to defend him in a separate double homicide case involving the 2012 shooting deaths of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

"I have never walked out of a jail and thought, 'Oh my God, that's the most astonishing story I've ever heard'," Baez said. "And that's the story of Aaron Hernandez."

On April 14, 2017 following a two-week trial in Boston during which Baez raised reasonable doubt about who was responsible for the double homicide, a jury acquitted Hernandez of the murder charges.

Five days later, Hernandez hanged himself in his prison cell.

"I woke up one morning to a flood of text messages and found out he had committed suicide," said Baez. "It was completely unforeseen. I had spoken to him hours earlier and he was so happy and excited for his future."

According to the attorney, he and his client were optimistic about their upcoming appeal of Hernandez's murder conviction in the Lloyd case.

[Watch an extended portion of the News 6 interview with Jose Baez below]

"I just never saw it coming," said Baez.  "And that, I can only attribute to the disease."

Shortly after Hernandez's death, researchers with Boston University examined the 27-year-old's brain and found evidence of the degenerative disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, also known as CTE.

"It was the worst case of CTE they have ever seen in a person of that age," said Baez. "He had the  brain damage of someone who had been playing in the league for about 18 years."

Hernandez’s CTE-afflicted brain had an atrophied fornix (nerves associated with memory) compared to that of a normal person his age and enlarged ventricular cavities, involved in producing brain-cushioning fluid. (Figure courtesy of Ann McKee)

According to Ann McKee, the director of Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, such brain injuries can potentially cause other problems.

"While I’m not going to connect the dots with his behavior or difficulties during life, the frontal lobes—and his were very severely affected—are involved in problem-solving, judgment, impulse control, and social behavior," said McKee.

Baez, a lifelong football fan, said he still loves the sport but now has serious concerns about the harm it can cause players, particularly those who are too young to make informed decisions about the risks.

"We know that tackle football causes brain damage, just like we know cigarettes cause lung damage," said Baez.  "Any parent who allows their child to play tackle football is committing child abuse.  You are actively encouraging a child to do something that you know is harmful to them.  That's the definition of child abuse."

Although the Hernandez and Anthony cases were both high-profile, televised murder trials, Baez said the two legal matters were extremely different.

"The only similarity, I believe, was law enforcement and the prosecution," said Baez.  "They really want a conviction. When the lights are on, they want to win like you just can't believe, even if it flies in the face of the truth."

Over the past decade Baez has transformed from a little-known attorney at the beginning of the Anthony case to one defending a celebrated and controversial athlete. However, he insists he has not changed professionally or personally.

"I'm just the same Jose," he said. "What's changed the most, I think, are the opportunities I've been given to participate in these type of cases because people know who I am and know the past results I've had."

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