An autopsy performed on former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and West Babylon native Jovan Belcher, who fatally shot his girlfriend before committing suicide, found that his brain had signs of a degenerative disease.
On Dec. 1, 2012, Belcher, 25, shot Kasandra Perkins, 22, at the couple's suburban Kansas City, Missouri, home. He later drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of the Chiefs' then-general manager and then-head coach.
The autopsy, released Monday, revealed Belcher's brain had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of brain damage found in athletes and others with a history of repetitive brain injuries.
The autopsy was performed in December at the request of lawyers for Zoey Belcher, the daughter of Belcher and Perkins, who was 2 months old at the time of her parents' deaths.
Attorney Kenneth B. McClain -- whose client is the conservator who was appointed to represent Belcher's daughter -- said the diagnosis was made by Dr. Piotr Kozlowski, a neuropathologist in Staten Island. McClain, of Independence, Missouri, said Kozlowski is highly recognized in this area of study.
"He examined the brain and in each of the seven areas he examined he found tangles representative of CTE of the brain and so rendered the diagnosis that this is consistent with CTE seen in the brains of other deceased players," McClain said. "It confirms what we thought."
Cheryl Shepherd, Belcher's mother, sued the Chiefs in late December, alleging Belcher had suffered repetitive head trauma and that the team failed to provide adequate medical care before the shooting deaths.
The Chiefs declined to comment on the autopsy results. In a statement, the NFL said: "The NFL has a long history of a changing the rules of the game to make it safer on the field, providing players the best medical care, and updating protocols on diagnosing concussions, treating concussions, and returning to play after a concussion."
Belcher's body was exhumed at a cemetery in Bay Shore at his family's request earlier in December so that his brain could be studied for any signs of CTE.
Shepherd did not return a message seeking comment.
Shepherd's lawsuit and other legal actions by more than 30 plaintiffs, including many former Chiefs players, has been moved to federal court and set aside while the $765 million concussion claims settlement between the NFL and thousands of retired players moves through the approval process.
CTE has been found in other former NFL players. They include Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters -- all of whom committed suicide.
Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the neurosurgery department of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Illinois, said violence is not typically linked to CTE. "If corroborated and found to be true, they [the findings] are of great interest," Bailes said. "The second thing, CTE has not typically been associated with violence or homicidal behavior. One notable exception was Chris Benoit, the WWE wrestler who killed his wife and son, and hanged himself in Atlanta [in 2007]. But for the most part, it hasn't been part of CTE."
Dirk Vandever, a Kansas City attorney representing some plaintiffs in head injury lawsuits against the Chiefs, said the results of the autopsy were released now because of the increased awareness of domestic violence cases plaguing the NFL.
"In the past month, five different NFL players [were] implicated in horrendous episodes in domestic violence," Vandever said.
Brain disease Jovan Belcher may have had
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes and other individuals with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including concussions and hits to the head. Former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher showed signs of CTE, an autopsy released Monday indicates.
WHO IT AFFECTS: Known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have confirmed CTE in retired pro football players and other athletes.
HOW IT HAPPENS: Trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the buildup of an abnormal protein called tau. The impact on the brain can begin months, years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of athletic involvement.
ASSOCIATED WITH: Memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and, eventually, progressive dementia.
Source: Boston University's CTE Center