The death of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was officially ruled a suicide on Thursday, and his brain will be donated to Boston University for study in accordance with his family's wishes.
The Worcester County District Attorney's Office in Massachusetts announced that Hernandez took his own life after conducting an investigation.
Guards discovered the 27-year-old Hernandez in his single cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley just after 3 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital about an hour later.
Chief medical examiner Dr. Henry N. Nields made the conclusion that "manner of death was suicide and the cause asphyxia by hanging," according to a news release.
Three handwritten notes were found in the cell but the contents weren't immediately released. There was no indication of foul play, according to authorities.
"There were no signs of a struggle, and investigators determined that Mr. Hernandez was alone at the time of the hanging," the district attorney's office said in the statement.
With the cause of death determined, the medical examiner cleared the way for Hernandez's brain to be released to Boston University to undergo testing as part of the university's concussion research.
Earlier Thursday, Hernandez lawyer Jose Baez sharply criticized the medical examiner's office for "illegally" holding the brain.
The medical examiner released Hernandez's body to a funeral home on Thursday but didn't initially include the brain.
"It is our position that they are holding Aaron Hernandez's brain illegally," Baez told reporters. "There is a fixing procedure to prepare these specimens. It is their position that they are going to be the ones to do the fixing procedure. The family does not have confidence in the medical examiner's office."
Baez said the family decided on giving the brain to Boston University to see if there are signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in Hernandez's brain. CTE is the debilitating brain disease that researchers say is caused in part by concussions while playing football and other head trauma.
"The family of Aaron Hernandez has decided to donate Aaron's brain to the study so we can possibly help other young men who play football ... further the cause, and possibly shed light and provide more evidence on this case," Baez said.
Hernandez's suicide occurred just five days after he was acquitted on double-murder charges. The timing of his death -- prison officials say he hung himself -- has perplexed people.
"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."
Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a sentence delivered in April 2015.
The former University of Florida and NFL star was in a maximum security state prison not far from the Patriots' home, which is in Foxborough, Mass.
Corrections officers said Hernandez hung himself using a bed sheet that he attached to a cell window.
Hernandez was emotional Friday as the jury read a not guilty verdict acquitting Hernandez of the 2012 fatal shootings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Hernandez signed a seven-year, $40 million contract with the Patriots prior to the 2012 season. That deal included a $12.5 million signing bonus and $15.9 million guaranteed.
Hernandez's death occurred on the same day the Patriots visited the White House to mark their Super Bowl LI comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons.
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