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Body of ex-Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher exhumed year after suicide so brain can be examined

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In this Dec. 19, 2010 photo, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher walks off in St. Louis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Seth Perlman

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In this Dec. 19, 2010 photo, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher walks off in St. Louis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Seth Perlman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Former Kansas City Chiefs' linebacker Jovan Belcher's body has been exhumed more than a year after he killed his girlfriend and himself so that his brain can be examined for signs of a degenerative condition linked to repeated concussions.

Jovan's family had his body exhumed Friday at North Babylon Cemetery in the Long Island, N.Y., community of Bay Shore, the family's attorney, Dirk Vandever, told The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/18LQqGo ). Vandever didn't immediately respond to an email and phone messages left Saturday by The Associated Press.

An examination of Belcher's brain could determine whether he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy last December when he killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, with whom he had an infant daughter, in their home. Belcher then drove to the Chiefs' practice facility and shot himself in the head in the parking lot.

Bennet Omalu, an expert on the destructive brain condition, said that he "would bet one month's salary that (Belcher) had CTE" and that the local medical examiner should have performed a test for it.

CTE is a progressive disease linked to multiple concussions. It has made headlines in recent years with the deaths of some former professional athletes, and lawsuits filed against the NFL by others worried about the still unclear toll of a sport that can bring repeated blows to the head. Symptoms include memory problems, behaviour changes including aggression, and eventually dementia.

Dan Ferguson, a spokesman for Jackson County, stressed the medical examiner's job is to determine cause of death and that removal of an organ or tissue strictly for research isn't allowed.

Belcher's brain also could have been donated for research, but Vandever said Belcher's family wasn't contacted about such a donation.

The fact that it's been a year since Belcher died could complicate the exam. But Omalu said important scientific findings remain possible, noting that he has found clear evidence of Alzheimer's and other brain diseases during autopsies performed on bodies buried longer than Belcher's.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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