April 25, 2017 / 7:16 PM / 4 months ago

Lawyer for ex-NFL star Hernandez denies letter mentioned prison lover

FILE PHOTO - Former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez listens as prosecution witness Alexander Bradley testifies at Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts April 1, 2015.Brian Snyder/File Photo

BOSTON (Reuters) - A lawyer for former National Football League star Aaron Hernandez on Tuesday denied media reports that the athlete wrote a letter to a prison lover before hanging himself in his prison cell last week.

The former New England Patriots player's body was found on Wednesday hanging in a cell where he was serving a life prison sentence. Law enforcement officials last week confirmed that Hernandez left behind three handwritten letters.

Local media, citing law enforcement sources, said that one of the letters was addressed to a lover Hernandez had taken while in prison. He had been in state custody since June 2013 when he was arrested and charged with murdering an acquaintance. He was convicted of that killing in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

"Rumours of letters to a gay lover, in or out of prison, are false," said lawyer Jose Baez, who this year successfully defended Hernandez in a trial where he was accused of murdering two men in Boston in 2012.

"These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead," Baez added. "I urge anyone continuing to spread these malicious untruths to cease immediately."

Hernandez, who had been a rising star in the NFL with a $41 million contract before his arrest, hung himself just days after being cleared of the double-murder charges.

Prosecutors in Worcester Country, the site of the prison where Hernandez died, on Monday released copies of the letters to Hernandez's family after being ordered to do so by a judge. Officials did not release details on the letters' contents.

A spokesman for Baez declined to provide further details on the letters' contents.

Also on Tuesday, lawyers asked a Massachusetts judge to vacate Hernandez's 2015 conviction for murdering an acquaintance.

In addition to clearing Hernandez's name, the legal move, at the behest of his family including his girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, could help protect his estate from liability in civil lawsuits filed by the survivors of his alleged victims.

The filing, made on Tuesday at Massachusetts Superior Court in Fall River, is based on a quirk of Massachusetts law that allows a court to reverse a verdict if the person convicted dies before he has exhausted his appeals process.

The Bristol County district attorney, who handled the Lloyd murder trial, plans to contest the request to vacate the verdict, a spokesman said.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Andrew Hay

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