BOSTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The family of Aaron Hernandez wants to donate the former NFL star’s brain to science, but Hernandez’s attorney said the medical examiner’s office is withholding it.
Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet Wednesday in his cell in a maximum-security prison in Massachusetts, where he was serving a life sentence for the 2013 slaying of a onetime friend.
Attorney Jose Baez said the brain would be donated to the study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, “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 the family made arrangements with Boston University’s CTE Unit to take possession of the brain, but that the medical examiner’s office decided to retain it.
“It is our position that they are holding Aaron Hernandez’s brain illegally,” Baez said. “They have released the body and withheld Aaron’s brain.”
Baez said the family will go to court if necessary and that it will be seeking an independent autopsy.
The medical examiner’s office didn’t immediately comment on the brain dispute and hasn’t released the results of its autopsy.
Hernandez, 27, died five days after a jury acquitted him in the 2012 shooting deaths of two men whom prosecutors alleged he gunned down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him at a Boston nightclub.
His death remains shrouded in mystery.
The apparent suicide left friends, family and his legal team shocked and in disbelief. Many were searching for an explanation to the tragic end of a young man whose football skills at one point earned him a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the NFL’s top franchise.
“There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible,” said his attorney, Jose Baez. “Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence. Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death.”
Baez called on authorities to “conduct a transparent and thorough investigation” and said his law firm will “participate in its own examination into this tragic event.”
Guards found Hernandez shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Shirley, Correction Department spokesman Christopher Fallon said. The former tight end was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead about an hour later.
Fallon said he was not aware of any suicide note and officials had no reason to believe Hernandez was suicidal. Otherwise, he would have been transferred to a mental health unit, Fallon said.
CBS Boston has learned Hernandez had the Bible verse John 3:16 written on his forehead and that investigators are looking into the possibility that he smoked synthetic marijuana Tuesday night. He also appeared to have red marks on his hands and feet, CBS Boston reported.
The verse says in part that whoever believes in Jesus “shall not perish but have everlasting life,” CBS News reported.
The Worcester County district attorney’s office and the Correction Department were investigating.
A star tight end for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name also had come up in an investigation into a shooting.
Still, he was a productive tight end for the Patriots for three seasons. He caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in his second year to help the team reach the Super Bowl.
But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested in the killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Last week, Hernandez was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston. As the jury deliberated, cameras spied Hernandez blowing kisses to the young daughter he fathered with fiancee Shayanna Jenkins.
Investigators suggested Hernandez shot Lloyd to keep him quiet about the two earlier killings. A lawyer who represents Lloyd’s mother said she’s moving forward with a wrongful-death lawsuit against Hernandez’s estate, which includes a home valued at $1.3 million.
In the Dorchester neighborhood where Lloyd grew up, a family friend of the victim wondered if Hernandez could no longer bear the weight of his crime and his squandered potential.
“I just think it got to him — the guilt,” Mixson Philip said. “Each man has to live with himself. You can put on an act like nothing happened, but you’ve got a soul. You’ve got a heart.”
Friends also were grieving in Connecticut, where Hernandez was raised.
“Especially after him getting acquitted of the double murder. That was a positive thing in our minds,” said Alex Cugno, who grew up with Hernandez in Bristol. “I don’t believe that he would have killed himself. It just doesn’t add up.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)