BOSTON — Aaron Hernandez’s family wants to donate his brain to science, but Massachusetts officials are refusing to release it despite turning over the rest of his body to a funeral home, the former NFL star’s lawyer said Thursday.
Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez’s death was ruled a suicide Thursday, according to the Worcester County district attorney and Massachusetts authorities. Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet in his cell shortly after 3 a.m. on Wednesday. He was 27.
Hernandez attorney Jose Baez said the family had arranged for Boston University researchers looking at brain trauma in athletes to take possession of Hernandez’s brain following the autopsy.
The medical examiner released Hernandez’s body Thursday, but Baez says the office has not yet given them back the brain, as promised.
“There’s no reason to withhold the brain,” he said in front of the state medical examiner’s office in Boston. “It is literally a destruction of evidence.”
A top state official responded that brain will be released by the medical examiner as soon as the investigation into his death is complete.
“No one is going to stand in the way of the family’s wishes,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Dan Bennett, whose office oversees the medical examiner.
Baez said the family retained Dr. Michael Baden, a former chief medical examiner for New York City, to perform an independent autopsy. Baden, who didn’t immediately comment, has performed autopsies in numerous high-profile cases, including the death of Michael Brown, who was black and was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Brown was 18.
Baez declined to say whether he or the family believed brain damage from Hernandez’s playing days led the former New England Patriots player to kill himself.
It’s generally best for researchers to get access to a brain within hours of death to determine the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or other neurodegenerative diseases, said Dr. Lee Goldstein, a CTE researcher at Boston University.
Authorities on Thursday clamped down on releasing more details about Hernandez’s death.
They have said Hernandez hanged himself in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Guards found Hernandez shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Hernandez apparently jammed the door to prevent officers from entering and wasn’t on suicide watch because he didn’t appear to be at risk, according to prison officials.
Authorities have yet to release the incident report, officers’ logs, video footage from the area around Hernandez’s cell or other details about prison protocol, despite…