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AAA  Apr. 21, 2017 2:59 PM ET
Judge orders evidence preserved in Hernandez prison suicide
By MICHELLE R. SMITH, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES 
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Ursula Ward, the mother of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd, becomes emotional as she listens to her attorney speak about her son during a media availability at her attorney's office Friday, April 21, 2017, in Boston. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was convicted of Lloyd's 2013 murder and was serving a life sentence without parol when he hung himself in his jail cell early Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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(AP) — A Massachusetts judge on Friday ordered all evidence in the prison suicide of Aaron Hernandez preserved, granting a request from the ex-NFL star's fiancee so the family can investigate the circumstances of his death.

Bristol Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire said he thinks it's only fair that Hernandez's family, the government and the public know exactly how he died.

His fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, had filed court papers on behalf of his estate, asking that prison officials be barred from altering or destroying any potential evidence, including Hernandez's writings, video and audio recordings and medical records.

The former New England Patriots tight end was found hanged in his cell in a maximum-security prison early Wednesday. He was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player who had been dating Jenkins Hernandez's sister.

"The preservation of evidence regarding the circumstances of Aaron Hernandez's death is crucial to a full, complete and transparent investigation," family lawyer George Leontire said.

He said Hernandez's family still doesn't know what was in the three notes authorities say he left near a Bible in his cell.

Jenkins Hernandez wasn't present for Friday's brief hearing.

Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward, told reporters in Boston she still forgives Hernandez and that she prays he found peace after hanging himself in prison.

But, she added, that she still feels a "tremendous loss."

"I lost my son, the love of my life," Ward said. "I'll never ever see him again."

Ward's lawyer, Doug Sheff, said he issued "a friendly challenge" to the New England Patriots and the NFL Players Association to voluntarily release whatever money Hernandez might still be owed so a court can decide who should get it. Ward is suing Hernandez's estate for unspecified damages in a wrongful-death case.

Sheff said he thinks the team might have owed Hernandez up to $6 million. The suit seeks to recover that plus proceeds from the eventual sale of Hernandez's $1.3 million home, a Hummer and any other assets.

Asked if he believed Hernandez had any money actually left after years of litigation, Sheff replied: "Good question. We wonder that ourselves." The Patriots did not immediately react to his request.

Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet Wednesday, days after being acquitted in a 2012 double homicide case.

Another of Hernandez's lawyers said that he would ask a court to have that murder conviction erased. John Thompson said Friday he would file the necessary paperwork in Bristol County, the jurisdiction where Hernandez was tried and convicted in 2015.

Thompson didn't say when he'll file the request. The district attorney would be able to challenge it.

Courts in Massachusetts and a number of other states customarily vacate the convictions of defendants who die before their appeals are heard.

All first-degree murder convictions in Massachusetts trigger an automatic appeal. Hernandez's appeal was still in its early stages and hadn't yet been heard when he hanged himself.

Associated Press
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