BOSTON — Aaron Hernandez's lawyer is accusing Massachusetts' chief medical examiner of "illegally" holding the brain of the ex-NFL star who was found hanged in his prison cell.
Jose Baez told reporters Thursday that Hernandez's family had arranged for Boston University to study the former New England Patriots tight end's brain as part of its concussion research.
The medical examiner released Hernandez's body to a funeral home earlier Thursday. But Baez says the office has not returned the brain.
He says 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.
The Boston Globe, which first reported the release of the body, also said Hernandez was on the phone with his fiancée, 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. He was 27.
Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction and just days ago was acquitted of double murder, died after hanging himself in his prison cell Wednesday morning.
Just when the former NFL star, a convicted murderer, was told he might have something to live for, he's gone. It's one more thing we don't understand.
Originally published in 2013, Elizabeth Merrill reports how Odin Lloyd's relationship with Aaron Hernandez had given Lloyd a glimpse of the life he'd dreamed of.
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 Odin Lloyd.
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 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 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 for 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 declined to comment further Thursday.
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."