The family of Aaron Hernandez plans to donate his brain to scientists to determine whether he had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to a number of NFL athletes.
But the brain is being held “illegally” by the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Hernandez family attorney Jose Baez said on Thursday.
“It is our position that they are holding Aaron Hernandez’s brain illegally,” he said. “They have released the body and withheld Aaron’s brain.”
The brain custody battle comes a day after prison officials said Hernandez, a former NFL star for the New England Patriots, hanged himself with a bedsheet attached to a window in his prison cell.
Hernandez, 27, was serving a sentence of life without parole for the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. His death came less than a week after he was acquitted in a separate double-murder trial.
Baez, who has been retained by the Hernandez family to investigate his death, said he may take the medical examiner’s office to court.
Hernandez’s body is at Faggas Funeral Home in Watertown, Massachusetts, according to funeral home secretary Jennifer Smith.
Baez said the family made arrangements for the Boston University CTE Unit to take possession of the brain, and the medical examiner’s office agreed to those plans.
“The family of Aaron Hernandez has decided to donate to this study so that we could possibly help other young men who decide to play football, and to help further that cause, and also possibly shed light and more evidence on this case,” Baez said.
However, the medical examiner’s office changed its mind, Baez said, and it plans to do the examination and the fixing procedure of the brain.
“The family does not have confidence in this medical examiner’s office, specifically given the history of this case, the history of missing evidence, the history of misconduct, and the issues that came out in this trial of certain things that were done by the medical examiner’s office which did not follow proper protocols,” Baez said.
The Boston University CTE Center, led by Dr. Ann McKee, has found evidence of CTE in the brains of 200 people, including in high school and professional football players.
The degenerative disease is believed to be caused by repeated head trauma, and has been found in famed NFL players including Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. Scientists can only diagnose the disease after death.
The CTE Center declined to discuss Hernandez’s brain.
“It is our policy that we do not and cannot discuss any ongoing, completed or potential case(s) without specific consent from the family,” the center said.
Baez said he was not suggesting Hernandez had CTE. He said the CTE center was one of the finest in the country, whereas the medical examiner’s office did not have the protocols in place to properly examine the brain.
“This is not amateur hour, and the medical examiner’s office shouldn’t decide to play amateur hour,” he said. “It is literally a destruction of evidence issue, and that is the problem here.”