It has been 470 days since Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life without parole.
Hernandez’s arrest in the death of Odin Lloyd and alleged connection to another double murder grabbed headlines and shook the sports world. If anyone can understand how Hernandez went from NFL stardom to life in prison for murder, it’s his older brother, Jonathan. In Michael Rosenberg’s story published Thursday, Jonathan dives into the relationship between the two men and what has changed in their lives since.
We pulled out five telling anecdotes from Rosenberg’s story below, but be sure to check out the full piece on SI Longform.
Jonathan and Aaron exchange mail regularly, as visits are made more difficult by distance.
D.J. still plays tic-tac-toe with him. Hangman too. D.J. draws the games on a piece of paper and mails them to Aaron in jail; Aaron makes his moves and sends them back.
Jonathan, once a quarterback at UConn, a graduate assistant at Iowa, and an aspiring football coach, has started over. His connections to his brother are also visual — they bear a striking resemblance — and he has all but rebooted his identity.
Shortly after the conviction, D.J. makes two key decisions. He will leave coaching, and he will no longer be D.J. That was a sports name, he says, and he doesn’t need it anymore. Time to start fresh. He won’t go by his first name, Dennis, because that belongs to his father. So his middle name, Jonathan, it is. He hears about a job working for a roofer in Dallas and decides to try it out.
In the piece, Rosenberg writes about a visit Jonathan paid to Aaron in prison.
Aaron walks in wearing a two-piece gray prison suit with a white T-shirt underneath. But a guard puts him in number 13, two down from the wall. The brothers are suddenly caught in a slapstick routine—Aaron sees Jonathan in number 12 and goes there while Jonathan sees Aaron at 13 and goes there—and they get a laugh out of it. But beneath the comedy lies another little indignity: They are supposed to be in seat number 13, meaning that, in a mostly empty room, they have been seated immediately adjacent to two other people. Any hint at privacy has been erased.
Those in and around Hernandez’s old life offer some insight into Aaron, then and now.
Stephen Ziogas’s father, Mark, who coached Aaron in Little League, has detected a sense of relief in Aaron’s letters from prison. “It almost feels like the pressure on him is off, now that he is in jail,” Mark says. “He must have felt a lot of pressure. It makes you feel sad. Why didn’t he try to deal with it through counseling or something?”
Jonathan has tried to move on, while staying in touch with his closest friend.
“Whether Aaron did or did not do it, I don’t know,” he says. “And honestly, it’s irrelevant. It really is. He’s in a situation because he decided to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people.”
He clarifies: Of course it is relevant to the Lloyd family, and to the families of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado too. He understands. But, Jonathan says, “I’m done with it. My days are too busy to stay at home and watch trials. We’ll talk. I still love him. That’s not going to change. If I see him out here one day, the first thing I’m going to do is give him a hug and a kiss, just like we used to do with my father.”
The full story is available now on SI.com