Aaron Hernandez's body was released to a funeral home following an autopsy minus part of his brain, putting the state at odds with the former NFL star's family, his attorney Jose Baez said Thursday.
Baez said the family had arranged for Hernandez's brain to be transferred to Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) unit for tests, but that the medical examiner's office said it would do the tests itself.
"Aaron's brain will be donated to science to test for CTE," Baez said. "It is our position that they are holding Aaron Hernandez's brain illegally. They have released the body and withheld Aaron's brain."
Baez would not address reports that Hernandez was found with "John 3:16" written on his forehead in red ink and on the wall of his cell.
Baez did say the family had retained renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to perform an independent autopsy.
Government officials on Thursday refused to release more information about the circumstances behind his apparent suicide in a maximum-security prison.
The Boston Globe, which first reported the release of the body, also said the former New England Patriots tight end was on the phone with his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, hours before he was found hanging in his cell early Wednesday, according to one of Hernandez's lawyers. It's not clear what they may have discussed.
Hernandez apparently killed himself by hanging himself from a bedsheet affixed to a window in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Guards found Hernandez shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Prison officials say Hernandez jammed the door to prevent officers from entering, didn't leave a suicide note and wasn't on suicide watch because he didn't appear to be at risk.
But prison officials, state police and prosecutors declined to comment further or release any records related to Hernandez's death, citing their ongoing investigation. They have yet to release the incident report, officers' logs, video footage from the area around Hernandez's cell or other details about prison protocol, despite repeated requests from The Associated Press.
Correction Department spokesman Christopher Fallon said the agency won't comment until the investigation was completed. State police spokesman Dave Procopio also cited the "active" investigation in not releasing more information. The state medical examiner's office also declined to comment on the status of its autopsy or the release of Hernandez's body.
The Faggas Funeral Home in Watertown, Massachusetts, confirmed to the AP that it received the body but that funeral services will likely be held elsewhere for the Connecticut native.
Many other questions remain unanswered, including what's to become of Hernandez's estate and why he would kill himself just days after the he was cleared of two murder charges.
Hernandez had been serving a life sentence without parole for the 2013 slaying of a onetime friend.
During his trial in Boston for the killing of two men in Boston in 2012, Hernandez 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 27-year-old former University of Florida standout died five days after a jury acquitted him in those two deaths, which prosecutors alleged was precipitated by one of the men accidentally spilling a drink on Hernandez at a Boston nightclub.
News of the death came just hours before his former New England Patriots teammates visited the White House Wednesday to celebrate their Super Bowl victory.
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," Baez said. "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."
The AP left phone messages for and sent emails to Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez and her lawyer.
Friends 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."
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