Aaron Hernandez
Aaron Hernandez looks at the gallery during his murder trial in Fall River, Massachusetts. The former New England Patriots football star hanged himself in the jail cell where he was serving a life sentence for murderREUTERS/Dominick Reuter

Former star tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2015, was found dead in his prison cell in an apparent suicide on Wednesday (19 April), authorities said. Hernandez did not leave behind any suicide note, but he did reportedly write the words "John 3:16" on his forehead before his death.

The widely known Bible verse says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." The Washington Post reported that a Bible found in his cell was reportedly opened to that page.

WBZ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Boston, reported Hernandez was also found with markings on both his hands and feet. The markings drawn on his body were done with a "blood red" marker, Boston's Fox25 reported. Some are speculating that the former New England Patriots player was attempting to draw stigmata markings on his body before allegedly committing suicide.

Authorities are conducting an investigation into the American football player's death. According to WBZ-TV, investigators believe 27-year-old Hernandez may have smoked a synthetic marijuana known as K2 hours before his death.

Authorities claim that Hernandez hanged himself in his single cell with a bed sheet. He reportedly used various things to block his cell door before he was found at approximately 3.05am EST (8.05am GMT). Officers at Souza-Baranowski Correction Center in Shirley tried to save Hernandez's life and took him to UMass-Memorial Health Alliance Hospital in Leominster where he was pronounced dead by a physician at 4.07am.

Hernandez's former agent and lawyer maintain that there was no way the ex-NFL player would have committed suicide because he was not suicidal. "The family and legal team is shocked and surprised at the news of Aaron's death," defence lawyer Jose Baez said in a statement to the Boston Herald.

"There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible. Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence," Baez said. "Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death. We request that authorities conduct a transparent and thorough investigation."

Baez also said his law firm would conduct its own probe on Hernandez's death.

Brian Murphy, Hernandez's former agent, also claimed there was "no chance" the former athlete committed suicide. "Absolutely no chance he took his own life. Chico was not a saint, but my family and I loved him and he would never take his own life," Murphy tweeted.

On Friday (14 April), a Boston jury found Hernandez not guilty of the 2012 deaths of two men, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Hernandez was serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2015 of the 2013 death of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.

According to the Boston Globe, Hernandez may have died an innocent man in the state of Massachusetts due to an archaic legal principle known as "abatement ab initio". Hernandez was appealing his conviction and because he died before exhausting his legal appeals, his case would revert to its status at the beginning.

Hernandez's appellate attorney, John M Thompson, told the Globe he would file to vacate the conviction. That move could be challenged by the Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M Quinn III's office or the Lloyd family.