BOSTON (CBS/AP) – Aaron Hernandez’s attorney said his client’s family wants to donate Hernandez’s brain to research into sports-related injuries, but he claims the state medical examiner’s office is withholding it.
At a news conference outside the ME’s office in Boston Thursday afternoon, Jose Baez said the state has turned over the body to Hernandez’s family, but not the brain, which they want to donate to Boston University’s renowned Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center.
CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, according to the center’s website.
“They’re being very vague about what their intentions are,” Baez said of the ME’s office. “It’s literally a destruction of evidence issue,” he said. “There would be no reason for them to withhold the brain.”
Baez said he’s concerned that a delay in turning the brain over to B.U. would compromise any study of it.
Dan Bennett, the state’s secretary for Public Safety and Security, released a statement Thursday afternoon in response to Baez.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is conducting an investigation into the circumstances of Aaron Hernandez’s death, which may require further analysis of his body. Once that is complete the brain will be released to Boston University,” Bennett said. “No one is going to stand in the way of the family’s wishes for Boston University to have Aaron Hernandez’s brain.”
Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said later that Hernandez’s official cause of death was suicide and the cause was asphyxia by hanging.
“Now that the cause and manner of death have been determined, the brain will be released to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center as Mr. Hernandez’s family wishes,” Early Jr. said in a statement.
Baez claimed he had made arrangements for B.U. to pick up the brain at 10 a.m. Thursday, but the state refused to release it.
“It is our policy that we do not and cannot discuss any ongoing, completed or potential case(s) without specific consent from the family,” a spokeswoman for BU’s CTE Center told WBZ-TV in a statement.
Earlier Thursday, WBZ-TV I-Team chief correspondent Cheryl Fiandaca learned that at least one correction officer at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley has been “detached with pay” in wake of Hernandez’s death.
Massachusetts prison officials, state police and prosecutors have declined to release any records related to the apparent suicide, citing their ongoing investigation.
They have yet to release the incident report, officers’ logs and video footage from the area around Hernandez’s cell and other details about protocol at the prison.
Correction Department spokesman Christopher Fallon said the agency won’t comment until the investigation is completed. State police spokesman Dave Procopio also cited the “active” investigation.
The WBZ-TV I-Team has learned that investigators have begun gathering all of the recorded telephone calls Hernandez made from prison in the weeks leading up to his death.
WATERTOWN FUNERAL HOME
Hernandez’s body was released to the Faggas Funeral Home in Watertown after an autopsy.
Owner Nicole Faggas told the Boston Globe there are no plans to hold services there. She said the body will be shipped to another location, but she declined to say where.
Baez was at the funeral home early Thursday afternoon, but refused to comment to reporters.
Another Hernandez attorney, Ronald Sullivan, told the Globe Thursday that Hernandez was on the phone with his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez about seven hours before he was found hanging in his cell early Wednesday. The couple had a 4-year-old daughter together.
Hernandez, 27, was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. He was acquitted last week in the 2012 murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)