Day after ex-NFL star Hernandez's death, fight over his brain  4/20/2017 7:26:52 PM   Scott Malone
FILE PHOTO - Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez and defense attorney Charles Rankin wait in the courtroom during the jury deliberation in his murder trial at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - A lawyer for former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez on Thursday accused the Massachusetts' medical examiner's office of reneging on a deal to turn over the athlete's brain to a Boston laboratory a day after he was found dead in his prison cell.

The 27-year-old former National Football League hung himself early on Wednesday in the cell where he was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of an acquaintance, dying less than a week after he was cleared of a separate double-murder charge, according to state officials.

Hernandez's family wanted his brain turned over to Boston University's CTE center, his attorney Jose Baez said. That center studies chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition linked to the sort of repeated head hits common in football that can lead to aggression and dementia later in life.

Baez said officials from the chief medical examiner's office told him they wanted to prepare the brain for study.

Hernandez had a $41 million contract with one of the league's top franchises when he was arrested at his home in June 2013 and charged with the fatal shooting. Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies.

Baez, who successfully defended Hernandez in his most recent trial, on Thursday said the medical examiner's office had turned over Hernandez' remains to his family but retained his brain.

"The family should be able to have the dignity of a proper service in the proper possession of Aaron's remains," Baez told reporters after exiting the medical examiner's office.

Baez declined to answer questions on Hernandez's mental state prior to his suicide and dismissed as "ridiculous" local media reports citing unnamed law enforcement sources that Hernandez's body was found with a reference to a Bible verse written on his forehead.

When a Boston University representative arrived to pick up the brain for testing, they were denied possession, Baez said.

"This is not amateur hour," Baez told reporters. "I have serious questions as to their ability to conduct this study."

A Boston University spokeswoman declined comment. A spokesman for the chief medical examiner's office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

CTE has been linked to the suicides of prominent NFL players including Hall of Famer Junior Seau.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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