Authorities: Hernandez’s prison death officially ruled suicide

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 15, 2017, file photo, Defendant Aaron Hernandez listens during his double murder trial in Suffolk Superior Court, in Boston. Massachusetts prison officials said Hernandez hanged himself in his cell and pronounced dead at a hospital early Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, Pool, File)

The death of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has officially been ruled a suicide, authorities announced Thursday afternoon.

Hernandez, 27, who had been serving a life sentence at the Souza-Baranowski Correction Center in Shirley, Massachusetts for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd in North Attleboro, was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell just after 3 a.m. on Wednesday.

While police said Hernandez was taken to UMass-Memorial Health Alliance Hospital in Leominster, he was later pronounced dead.

“Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Henry N. Nields performed an autopsy on Mr. Hernandez on Wednesday and concluded today that the manner of death was suicide and the cause asphyxia by hanging,” noted a press release from Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.

Early went on to note that “investigators found cardboard jammed into the door tracks of his single-inmate cell to impede entry into the cell,” as well as “three hand-written notes next to a Bible in the cell.”

Authorities did not disclose what was written in the three notes.

Investigators also noted that there were no signs of a struggle and that Hernandez was alone at the time of his hanging.

The release noted that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released Hernandez’s body on Wednesday, but withheld some tissue including his brain until the cause and manner of death was determined.

The developments come with controversy and emotion over the handling of Hernandez's brain. His family wants it donated for concussion research.

“We had made arrangements for Boston University to come today at 10 a.m. to pick up Aaron's brain and at the last minute, they decided that that was not something they were going to do,” Jose Baez, who served Hernandez’s lead attorney, said of the Medical Examiner's office.

Baez said they have no right to hold the brain and release the rest of the body to the family.

"It is our position that they are holding Aaron Hernandez's brain illegally,” Baez said.

Part of the preparation for CTE study is a process called “fixing the brain,” or preparing it for specimen testing.

Baez said the Medical Examiner's office thinks it’s better equipped to perform this part of the process, but it's not their decision.

"The culture of misconduct and the culture of negligence that goes on in this town is befuddling,” he said. “It's unbelievable."

Baez said that Boston University has the best CTE facilities in the world and that he will do anything in his power to right this wrong.

"If we need to name specific individuals in a civil lawsuit, that's exactly what we'll do,” he said.

But while Baez would not answer any questions surrounding the initial reports of suicide by Hernandez, Early said that because the death investigation is complete, the medical examiner will release the brain to Boston University.

“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 said in the release. “The center studies a progressive degenerative brain disease found in some athletes who have experienced repetitive brain trauma.”

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