Aaron Hernandez Murder Charges and the NFL Culture of Violence

"Culture of violence" or cumulative head trauma?

There's a saying in my business: the first one to the courthouse usually gets the best deal. Now, with the news that a certain individual associated with the Odin Lloyd murder has fingered Aaron Hernandez as the trigger-man in the senseless shooting, and the fact that Hernandez was recently indicted on first-degree murder charges, America gets to the see a nationally publicized "battle of the rats" first hand.

Multiple Defendants in High-Profile Murder Case

When you have a situation with multiple defendants implicated, you're liable to see more back-stabbing involved than an episode of "Big Brother." Consequently, as a criminal defense attorney, I can tell you that things are about to get even more difficult for the former football player.

With his arrest on June 26, the ex-New England Patriots tight end joined the infamous ranks of NFL players convicted or implicated in homicides.

  • Jovan Belcher, Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, before killing himself in 2012.
  • Rae Carruth, Carolina Panthers, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other related crimes in the 1999 shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams.
  • Tommy Kane, Seattle Seahawks, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2003 beating and stabbing death of his wife Tammara Shaikh.
  • Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens, was indicted on charges of murder and aggravated assault for the 2000 murders of Jacinth Baker and Richard Loller. The charges were later reduced to obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against two other men who were present at the shooting.
  • Jim Dunaway, Buffalo Bills, was charged, but not indicted, for the 1998 murder of his ex-wife, Nonniel Dunaway. He was later found liable in a civil suit filed by his children.
  • O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, was acquitted of the 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was later found liable in a civil suit, much like former teammate Jim Dunaway.
  • Anthony Wayne Smith, Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, was ordered to stand trial for four murders occurring in 1999, 2001, and 2008.

Honestly, I never liked Aaron Hernandez from the get go. Really though, that's just because he whooped up on my alma matter, the Oklahoma Sooners, in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game. Still, that bit of personal bias isn't enough to quell the criminal attorney  in me.

The man is innocent until proven guilty. The authorities haven't found the murder weapon, and they don't have a confession. However, the recent roll by one of his associates doesn't help his defense in the least. It's just more fuel to add to the circumstantial-evidence bonfire that seems to be developing.

Is It a Culture of Violence or Concussions

So, what gives? What makes these men so violent and dangerous? Is it the nature of the beast, and bellicose personalities are drawn to professional football? Is it a sense of entitlement and invincibility that accompanies athletic fame?

Or, is it poor impulse control, aggression, and mental health issues brought on by cumulative head trauma?

I played football in Oklahoma my entire life. Now, I never played college ball, and I sure as hell didn't strap-it-up for Sundays, but I definitely had my share of a few concussions. Still, I don't have any ultra-violent tendencies, and I'm not prone to memory lapses, so it is hard for me to make the personal connection to the trauma these gridiron gladiators, who sustain multiple "car-crash" level collisions week-in and week-out, must experience.

But to argue that professional football lends itself to criminal activity is an unfair assumption. Many NFL players are known for their philanthropic efforts rather than their illegal pursuits. In fact, the NFL has fewer arrests per capita (2.0 percent) than the NBA (5.1 percent), MLB (2.1 percent), or even the general public (4.2 percent).

As a side note, even though the NBA has the highest arrest rate per capita, my hometown Oklahoma City Thunder have only added one to that list (I'm not counting the time our ex-announcer was arrested for Lewd Acts with a Minor. OKC big-man Kendrick Perkins was arrested in Texas a few years back for disorderly conduct and public intoxication. That's one more reason he's my least favorite player on my favorite team. Just saying.

Across all sports, the top crimes are drug crimes, DUI, and domestic crimes. You see a few rape charges sprinkled in here and there as well. However, oddly enough, murder seems to be reserved for the NFL. Google "MLB murderers" and you won't find any players listed. A search of "NBA murderers" turns up only Jevaris Crittenton, indicted on 12 counts related to the 2011 murder of Julian Jones, a mother of two who police say was not the intended target of a gang-related shooting.

Look up "NFL murderers," though, and you will find several athletes accused of murder or attempted murder.

It is true that some people just can't handle wealth and fame. Many of these celebrities self-destruct, but others, including Aaron Hernandez, seem to turn their hostility outward. Is it glory gone to the head? Or is it injury to the head itself?

Poor impulse control, behavioral changes, aggression, depression, and mood disorders are all hallmarks of traumatic brain injury, and a number of NFL players and their families have sued the league for failing to adequately address the issue. These players have blamed cumulative head injuries for their depression and dementia, but some people are now saying the injuries could be at the root of their criminal behaviors.

Tommy Kane's criminal defense attorneys said he was battling depression. Barret Robbins of the Oakland Raiders was charged with attempted murder, but his defense lawyer was able to work out a deferred sentence that mandated treatment for bipolar disorder. Hubert D. Thompson, who was in the New Orleans Saints' training camp when he threw a neighbor from a balcony to his death, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Titus Young of the Detroit Lions was arrested three times in less than a week and charged with multiple offenses. His father said that behavior was not representative of his son, and that Young was suffering depression and mental health issues as a result of concussions sustained in football.

Claiming traumatic brain injury as a murder defense may not be popular. Hell, it may not even be terribly effective...but with the damage associated with repeated head injuries becoming increasingly clear, it may be worth looking into. Many criminal defense attorneys have begun using evidence of damage to their clients' frontal lobes as mitigation for poor choices and actions.

Depending on the future analysis of this issue, we constitutional combatants may have a new method to attack the allegations our clients face. Then again, maybe violence begets violence.

For more information check out https://www.oklahomalegalgroup.com/homicide

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