Of­fi­cials rule Her­nan­dez death a sui­cide

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS - By Philip Marcelo and Collin Bink­ley

Aaron Her­nan­dez’s death in prison has been ruled a sui­cide and the for­mer NFL star’s brain is be­ing do­nated to sports con­cus­sion re­searchers, Mas­sachusetts au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day.

BOS­TON » Aaron Her­nan­dez’s death in prison has been ruled a sui­cide and the for­mer NFL star’s brain is be­ing do­nated to sports con­cus­sion re­searchers, Mas­sachusetts au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day.

The dec­la­ra­tion by pros­e­cu­tors, state po­lice and pub­lic health of­fi­cials came af­ter a tu­mul­tuous day in which Her­nan­dez’s lawyer sug­gested the state was mis­han­dling the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and il­le­gally with­hold­ing his brain af­ter re­leas­ing the rest of the body to a funeral home.

Au­thor­i­ties said the med­i­cal ex­am­iner had ruled cause of death was as­phyxia by hang­ing and that in­ves­ti­ga­tors had found three hand­writ­ten notes next to a Bi­ble in Her­nan­dez’s cell at the Souza-Bara­nowski Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Shirley. Au­thor­i­ties pre­vi­ously said Her­nan­dez had not left a sui­cide note and he hadn’t been on sui­cide watch.

“There were no signs of a strug­gle, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined that Mr. Her­nan­dez was alone at the time of the hang­ing,” the state­ment read.

Her­nan­dez had been locked into his cell at about 8 p.m. and no one en­tered the cell un­til a guard saw him just af­ter 3 a.m. and forced his way in be­cause card­board had been jammed into the door track to im­pede en­try, au­thor­i­ties said. Her­nan­dez was found hang­ing from a bed­sheet and rushed to a hos­pi­tal, where he was pro­nounced dead about an hour later.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, Her­nan­dez’s lawyer com­plained that state of­fi­cials had turned over the 27-yearold’s body but not his brain.

At­tor­ney Jose Baez said the fam­ily had ar­ranged for re­searchers at Bos­ton Univer­sity’s Chronic Trau­matic En­cephalopa­thy Cen­ter to take cus­tody of the brain. The cen­ter stud­ies a pro­gres­sive de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease found in some ath­letes who have ex­pe­ri­enced repet­i­tive brain trauma. Her­nan­dez’s body is at a Bos­ton-area funeral home, but ser­vices will likely be held else­where for the Con­necti­cut na­tive.

Baez says he’s 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 sev­eral high-pro­file cases, in­clud­ing the death of Michael Brown, a black teen who was shot and killed by a white po­lice of­fi­cer in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri in 2014.

Baez de­clined to say whether he or the fam­ily be­lieved brain dam­age from Her­nan­dez’s play­ing days led the 27-year-old for­mer New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots player to kill him­self.

“We’re not sug­gest­ing any­thing,” he said. “You go where the ev­i­dence takes you. We need to ex­am­ine ev­ery as­pect of this case.”

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. Re­searchers also pre­fer to re­ceive the en­tire brain as a small piece may not tell the whole story, he added.

Other ques­tions sur­round­ing Her­nan­dez’s death still re­main unan­swered.

Au­thor­i­ties have still not re­leased the in­ci­dent re­port, of­fi­cers’ logs or video footage from the area around Her­nan­dez’s cell, de­spite re­peated re­quests from The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Mas­sachusetts Gov. Char­lie Baker said he wasn’t draw­ing any con­clu­sions un­til the full de­tails of in­ves­ti­ga­tion are re­vealed.

“Any time some­one kills them­selves in prison some­thing clearly went wrong,” he said, ad­ding that he had full con­fi­dence in prison of­fi­cials and was un­aware of any staff be­ing rep­ri­manded.

An­other un­known: why Her­nan­dez would kill him­self just days af­ter the he was cleared of two mur­der charges.

He had been serv­ing a life sen­tence with­out pa­role for the 2013 slay­ing of a one­time friend. But dur­ing his trial in Bos­ton for the killing of two men in Bos­ton in 2012, he ap­peared up­beat, con­stantly back­slap­ping his lawyers, let­ting out bel­low­ing laughs and blow­ing kisses to his 4-year-old daugh­ter and other fam­ily mem­bers in the au­di­ence.

The for­mer Univer­sity of Florida stand­out died five days af­ter a jury ac­quit­ted him in those two deaths, which pros­e­cu­tors al­leged were pre­cip­i­tated by one of the men ac­ci­den­tally spilling a drink on Her­nan­dez at a Bos­ton night­club.

PA­TRICK RAYCRAFT — HARTFORD COURANT VIA AP

In this 2005 photo, Aaron Her­nan­dez poses for a photo in Bris­tol.

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