Her­nan­dez death ruled sui­cide with brain go­ing to sci­ence


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-year-old’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-yearold 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.

A med­i­cal ex­am­iner ruled the cause of death for for­mer New Eng­land Pa­triot Aaron Her­nan­dez as as­phyxia by hang­ing and sui­cide notes were found.

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