How One Man's Dream Morphed into Multiplied Nightmares

The Tragic Demise of Aaron Hernandez

Netflix recently released a three-part docuseries on the saga of deceased New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez opens on the scene of the June 2013 murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. The following day, Aaron Hernandez was arrested in connection with the murder at his expansive Massachusetts home. The Patriots cut as many ties to him as it could, and the football world reeled in shock.

Killer Inside then followed the unfolding story of the crime, interspersing courtroom scenes with interviews and footage exploring Hernandez's formative years and football career. The mystery of Aaron Hernandez deepened when evidence turned up linking him to an unsolved double homicide a year prior in Boston, a crime that was arguably more disturbing. Although there had been no known acrimony between Hernandez and Lloyd, the two were at least connected. Lloyd was the boyfriend of Hernandez's fiancé. The 2012 double murder was a random drive-by shooting of two hapless men completely unknown to Hernandez. Following this revelation, a third Hernandez shooting came to light, turning up more dark dealings—death threats, extortion, and weapons stockpiling—behind the façade of his outwardly ordered life. As the story unfolded, it seemed every turn led to another surreal, rabbit-hole labyrinth.

Consistent with the true crime genre, the series raised more questions than it answered, leaving viewers to speculate about what happened and why. How could Aaron Hernandez have lived such a double life and people not know it? How could a gifted, successful athlete have also been a cold-blooded, detached killer?

Theories touched on included Hernandez's strained relationships with his mother and deceased father; sexual confusion (he'd been molested as a child and had experimented with homosexual sex as a teen and was said to be both attracted to men and angry about it); and various mental health pathologies including drug use, mounting paranoia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) related to repeated trauma to the brain.

Likely, all these factors played a role in the demise of Aaron Hernandez, but there was one factor the Netflix producers didn't address. Human sin, or what Christianity has historically called "the Fall," has itself, well, fallen out of favor as an explanatory filter for disturbing human behavior. But we remove it from our worldview to our own peril.

Convicted felon turned prison ministry founder Chuck Colson, no stranger to human fallenness, explained the Fall by reference to the trial of Adolph Eichmann:

Christians, of all people, should never be surprised at the evil that infects every human being—even the most ordinary of people.

A dramatic illustration of this truth took place thirty years ago, when Israeli agents captured Adolph Eichmann, one of the masterminds of the Nazi holocaust, and brought him to Israel to stand trial for his crimes.

Among the witnesses called to testify against Eichmann was a small, haggard man named Yehiel Dinur. He had survived brutal torture in the death camp at Auschwitz. Dinur entered the courtroom and he stared at the man who had presided over the slaughter of millions—including many of Dinur's own friends.

As the eyes of the victim met those of the mass murderer, the courtroom fell silent. Then, suddenly, Dinur literally collapsed to the floor, sobbing violently.

Was he overcome by hatred? By memories of the stark evil that Eichmann had committed?

No. As Dinur explained later in a riveting interview on "60 Minutes," what struck him was that Eichmann did not look like an evil monster at all; he looked like an ordinary person. Just like anyone else. In that moment, Dinur said, "I realized that evil is endemic to the human condition—that any one of us could commit the same atrocities."

In a remarkable conclusion, Dinur said: "Eichmann is in all of us."

In our therapeutic culture, people cringe when they hear words like evil and sin. We'd prefer to talk about people as victims of dysfunctional backgrounds. But there are times when it becomes obvious that those categories are simply insufficient—times when the evil in the human heart breaks through the veneer of polite society and shows us its terrifying face.

The only way to make sense of the inner and outer lives of Aaron Hernandez is in light of this biblical tenet. Inside of him, just like inside of you and inside of me, lived a deadly infection. Unless we recognize and excise it, the "Eichmann in all of us," as Colson put it, will eventually break through and terrorize.

Hernandez was convicted for the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2015. He was found dead in his cell, hung by his bedsheets, in April 2017. "I lived for my dream life," he maintained from prison, "but it just didn't work out." If the story as presented in the series is true, his dream didn't "work out" because the Eichmann within him worked its way out instead. And when that happens, life turns into a nightmare for a whole lot of people.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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