Study reveals Hernandez had CTE; family files suit against NFL, Patriots

Jose Baez, right, defense attorney for defendant Aaron Hernandez, left, listens during Hernandez' trial in Suffolk Superior Court, Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, Pool)

BOSTON (WPRI) —  Aaron Hernandez suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, according to researchers at Boston University’s CTE Center.

Attorneys for the late NFL player announced the results of a study of Hernandez’s brain at a news conference Thursday. Boston University confirmed the results, releasing images of his brain and revealing the 27-year-old had Stage 3 CTE when he hanged himself in his prison cell. Stage 4 is the highest stage.

“Not only were the results positive, but we’re told that it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age,” said Jose Baez, the defense attorney who represented Hernandez in his double-murder trial earlier this year. He was acquitted in those two murders, but had previously been convicted of murdering Odin Lloyd. That conviction was vacated following his suicide, because Hernandez died before all of his appeals had been heard.

Baez said Hernandez’s disease had advanced to a level typically seen in players with a median age of death of 67 years.

“Perhaps if we may have been able to be a little bit more educated on the topic…and our client may have been able to understand what was actually happening to him…that could have ultimately prevented his death,” Baez said.

View a scan of Hernandez’s brain from BU »

In light of the results, Hernandez’s fiance Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the couple’s daughter, Avielle Hernandez, against the NFL and the Patriots.

The suit claims the NFL and the Patriots were “negligent,” and failed to “disclose, treat or protect” Hernandez from the dangers of head trauma.

It further claims Hernandez’s suicide was a result of the CTE, leaving his daughter Avielle to be “deprived of the love, affection, society and companionship of her father while he was alive.”

“[The] defendants knew, or should have known, it was not safe for Aaron to continue playing football and that extending Aaron’s football career placed him at greater risk for neurological degeneration,” the lawsuit claims.

Baez said the legal team did not use CTE as a defense against any of the murders Hernandez was accused of because they were claiming actual innocence. There are still wrongful death lawsuits pending against Hernandez’s estate from the families of Odin Lloyd, Safiro Furtado and Daniel D’Abreu.

The suit demands a trial by jury and unspecified damages. The NFL and the Patriots both declined to immediately comment on the lawsuit.

“We have not seen a copy of the suit and cannot comment at this time,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said.

B.U.’s CTE Center gained national attention back in July when doctors revealed that the vast majority of brains of football players submitted to the brain bank for study tested positive for CTE. The study did not conclude how common CTE was among all players, since many of the brains were donated by families because of repeated concussions or concerning symptoms before death.

The Boston University CTE Center lists possible symptoms of CTE as memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia.

Below is the full statement from Boston University:

“A neuropathological examination of Aaron Hernandez’s brain was conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, Professor of Pathology and Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, Director of BU’s CTE Center and Chief of Neuropathology at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank.

“Based on characteristic neuropathological findings, Dr. McKee concluded that Mr. Hernandez had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Stage 3 out of 4, (Stage 4 being the most severe). This diagnosis was confirmed by a second VABHS neuropathologist. In addition, Mr. Hernandez had early brain atrophy and large perforations in the septum pellucidum, a central membrane.

‘”This graphic shows the classic features of CTE in the brain of Mr. Hernandez. There is severe deposition of tau protein in the frontal lobes of the brain (top row). The bottom row shows microscopic deposition of tau protein in nerve cells around small blood vessels, a unique feature of CTE.

“Dr. McKee and the BU CTE team have extensive experience in the diagnosis of CTE and have contributed landmark publications on traumatic brain injury and CTE in athletes and Veterans. Her research has demonstrated that CTE is associated with aggressiveness, explosiveness, impulsivity, depression, memory loss and other cognitive changes.

“We are grateful to the family of Aaron Hernandez for donating his brain to the VA-BU-CLF brain bank, located at the Jamaica Plain campus of the VA Boston Healthcare System.”