An autopsy conducted on the brain of deceased former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez revealed an unprecedented case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to researchers from Boston University, who add that his was the worst case ever seen in someone his age.
Hernandez committed suicide in prison in April. He was serving a life sentence for murder committed in 2013. Because his appeals process was incomplete at his time of death, a Massachusetts court exonerated him of the charge. Just days before his death, Hernandez was found not guilty of a 2012 double murder.
After his suicide, Boston University researchers were granted the opportunity to study his brain — a rare opportunity, considering that Hernandez was just 27 years old at his death and the condition of his brain was comparably pristine. Dr. Ann McKee,
Stage 3 CTE, an advanced variant, was discovered throughout his brain. Until Hernandez, no stage 3 CTE had ever been discovered in someone under 46 years old, according to Dr. McKee. The frontal lobe of his brain — a key area that determines judgement, decision making, and cognition — was also found to be severely damaged.
As Dr. McKee presented the results, physicians and others in attendance audibly gasped, according to the Washington Post.
Hernandez was also found to have a preexisting risk factor for brain diseases that could have additionally contributed to the development of his CTE, the worst case ever discovered in someone his age. Dr. McKee was sure to mention that the risk factor itself was not conclusive as she acknowledged its presence.
“Whether or not that contributed in this case is speculative,” she said. “It may explain some of his susceptibility to this disease.”
Dr. McKee added that receiving Hernandez’s brain and the opportunity to study it was “one of the most significant” contributions to the center’s work.