A Massachusetts judge has agreed to erase the murder conviction of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, essentially because his suicide prevents his pursuit of justice by putting an abrupt end to his appeal.
In a decision released Tuesday, Judge E. Susan Garsh said case law in Massachusetts is clear that “abatement” defendants, who are denied the ability to finish an appeal before they die, can have their convictions vacated, ABC News reported.
The former New England Patriots tight end committed suicide in his cell on April 19 while serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of football player Odin Lloyd. He died only five days after being acquitted of a second murder charge from an incident in 2012. But, Hernandez had filed an appeal of his conviction and was awaiting the process when he committed suicide.
“Abatement has been practiced in state and federal courts for more than a century,” Judge Garsh said. She added that “‘an appeal is an integral part of the system’ and said the interests of justice do not permit a defendant to stand convicted upon death if appeals are not exhausted.”
“Abatement remains the law in this Commonwealth, and this court is compelled to follow binding precedent,” Garsh concluded.
Judge Garsh dismissed the claim offered by prosecutors that Hernandez knew of the abatement rules when he committed suicide. Garsh insisted that there was no way to know what Hernandez thought as he prepared to kill himself.
The decision, though, could open up the New England Patriots to be liable to pay the Hernandez estate for the salary he missed during his trials and jail time after the team released him.
In 2012, the Patriots extended Hernandez’s contract with $16 million in guaranteed money. But, the team released Hernandez almost immediately after he was arrested in June 2013 and didn’t pay him the $5.91 million of that guaranteed amount.
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