Football player Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots led a turbulent life marked by drugs and disorderly conduct before becoming a celebrity athlete. Months after he signed a multi-million dollar deal with the Patriots, he was accused of murdering his fiancée’s sister’s boyfriend, Odin Lloyd. A jury convicted him of the murder in 2015. While serving a life sentence for the murder, he hung himself in his cell with a bedsheet — a mere four days after a jury had acquitted him of an unrelated double-murder.
Though he made a comfortable living and enjoyed several luxuries as a football star, he couldn’t rid himself of a life rife with violence. After his death, his family donated his brain to the Boston University CTE Center, which studies chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Ann McKee, head of the CTE Center, which has studied the disease for over a decade, called the athlete’s brain “one of the most significant contributions” to their work because of the rare opportunity to study CTE in someone so young.
At just 27 years old, Hernandez had developed Stage 3 CTE, which researchers at BU had never previously found in brains younger than forty-six. In fact, BU researchers reported that he had suffered the most severe case of CTE they had ever seen in someone his age. The extent of the damage could partially explain and excuse some of his actions, and those of many other prisoners who suffer from brain injuries.
How Do Brain Injuries Affect Behavior?
Severe brain injuries can cause poor judgement and affect impulse control, both factors that increase the risk that a person will commit a crime. The effects of a traumatic brain injury can impact the ability to make sound decisions and may make a person more vulnerable to manipulation. Those who suffer from brain injuries are more likely to engage in criminal activities than they were before the brain damage occurred. People who experience significant damage to their frontal lobe — the part of the brain responsible for controlling emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behavior — can drastically experience a personality shift and often end up in the criminal justice system.
Several correctional studies found that 25%-87% of inmates report a head injury. A disproportionate amount of women convicted of violent crimes suffer from head trauma than women in the general population. Some women in prison have reported 10 or more concussions prior to becoming incarcerated. Often, they are victims of domestic violence.
The rate of TBI among prisoners is approximately seven times higher than it is in the general population. Understanding how brain injuries can play a role in a person’s criminal behavior is crucial to issuing a fair judgment and sentence. Jurors who see a complete picture of a defendant which includes the trauma he or she has suffered are more likely to see a person who has made troublesome choices in life rather than a cold-blooded criminal.
Defense lawyer Brian Gabriel of the Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel works closely with his clients to ensure the parties tasked with determining their fate get to know the person behind the accusations. With over 30 years of criminal law experience in West Palm Beach, he is a valuable asset to any case. Call 561-622-5575 or email us for a free consultation.