The 2013 guilty verdict rendered against Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star and convicted murderer who committed suicide in his prison cell last month, has been thrown out by a Massachusetts judge. The ruling comes after Hernandez’s appellate attorneys made a request under a long-standing legal principle in Massachusetts – which holds that when a defendant dies before their direct appeal is decided, their convictions should be vacated.
“Abatement has been practiced in federal and state courts for more than a century,” Judge E. Susan Garsh said on Tuesday. “This court cannot know why Aaron Hernandez chose to end his life… a tragic act that may have complex and myriad causes.”
Hernandez, who was 27 when he was found dead in his cell in the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass. on April 19th, had just been acquitted in another murder case, the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. He was serving a life sentence for the fatal June 2013 shooting of Odin Lloyd at the time of his suicide.
The ruling came following a 40-minute hearing on Tuesday morning in Bristol County Superior Court, Mass. Prosecutors attempted to argue that dismissing the conviction would only reward the late tight end’s “conscious, deliberate and voluntary” murder. The lawyers stated that a defendant’s death while an appeal is pending does not always require what is known as “abatement,” including when “a defendant’s death is a result of his own conscious, deliberate and voluntary act.”
Lawyers for Hernandez argued that his conviction in the Odin Lloyd murder case could not be considered final because the automatic appeal Hernandez was entitled to had not been heard at the time of his death.
Prosecutors were quick to voice their dismay with the ruling.
“The defendant should not be able to accomplish in death what he could not accomplish in life,” Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Bomberg said.