Could a CTE Diagnosis Have Changed the Aaron Hernandez Verdict?

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The former football player who was convicted of murder was found to have CTE after his suicide. How would “live CTE” diagnoses affect such cases?


Could a “living” diagnosis of a brain disorder affect the outcome of a trial?

In the case of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, experts think it might have.

In 2015, the former tight end for the New England Patriots was convicted of murder.

Two years later, Hernandez died by suicide days after being acquitted in a second homicide case.

After his death, Hernandez was found to have signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in his brain tissue.

Jose Baez, the attorney for Hernandez’s family, said the former player’s CTE was “the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age,” according to ESPN.

Is CTE a defense?

CTE is a degenerative disease known to cause a variety of side effects, including aggression, impulse control, and suicidality.

There’s no cure for the disease. It can only be diagnosed posthumously with brain tissue.

In the wake of Hernandez’s diagnosis, some have wondered if a definitive diagnosis during his lifetime would’ve made a difference.

A person with the disease may be at more risk for aggression. But it’s still impossible to know if it’s the person or disease responsible in the case of a murder or suicide.

Amy Dillard, an associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said that a CTE diagnosis could’ve affected Hernandez’s trial.

In an opinion column published in The New York Times, Dillard and another law professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law wrote that a recent study finding that 110 of 111 brains from NFL players had signs of CTE could be enough evidence to convince a jury of reasonable doubt.

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