Aaron Hernandez's Murder Conviction Vacated After Suicide -- Will Patriots Be Forced To Pay His Estate?

It hasn't been a full month since the former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez ended his own life. Today, a Massachusetts judge ordered that Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction for the death of Odin Lloyd be vacated, meaning that Hernandez is no longer guilty of murder in the eyes of the court.

Bristol County Judge Susan Garsh ruled for Hernandez's estate and applied the Massachusetts abatement law to his case, relieving Hernandez of his murder conviction postmortem, reports ABC News. Garsh is the same judge who sat during Hernandez's murder trial. Based on her ruling, Judge Garsh made it clear that, based on Massachusetts law, she had no choice but to clear the conviction.

"Abatement has been practiced in state and federal courts for more than a century," Judge Susan Garsh said while delivering the ruling.
"Abatement remains the law in this Commonwealth and this court is compelled to follow binding precedent."
Even though Aaron Hernandez's suicide letter addressed to his fiance Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez alluded to the reason for his suicide, Judge Susan Garsh said she couldn't deny the abatement based on the assumption that Hernandez ended his life to clear his name. "This court cannot know why Hernandez chose to end his life," Garsh said, also saying that suicide is a "complex act that may have myriad causes."
It doesn't seem to matter what Aaron Hernandez's reasoning for suicide was, even if he took his own life to force the conviction to be vacated, according to his appellate attorney, John Thompson. "When the defendant dies after a trial and before an appeal the abatement ab initio doctrine applies without exception," Thompson explained during the hearing. "This is an established common law doctrine."

Prosecutors from Bristol County who helped earn Aaron Hernandez a murder conviction for the death of Odin Lloyd argued the opposite. They argued that while Massachusetts may practice abatement when someone dies before their appeals are heard, it's not a constitutional right.

Prosecutor Pat Bomberg argued that the conviction should not be erased and Hernandez should not be "rewarded" for taking his own life. It was during the 40-minute hearing on Tuesday that Bomberg and Aaron Hernandez's attorney, John Thompson argued over whether or not Aaron Hernandez's case was qualified for abatement. Thompson argued that there is no other case in the history of the state of Massachusetts that would set a precedent for Aaron Hernandez's conviction to not be vacated.

Prosecutor Patrick Bomberg argued that Aaron Hernandez's conscious decision to end his life for the reason of having his conviction vacated is enough reason not to do it. It's clear that Hernandez's purpose for suicide was to have the murder conviction vacated and make a path for Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez to fight for the rest of his guaranteed NFL money. The New England Patriots stopped paying Aaron Hernandez after his arrest and if the conviction is vacated, could be on the hook to his estate for $6 million.

Despite Judge Susan Garsh's ruling, she said the case would likely drag on for a long time. Even though Garsh ruled to vacate the conviction, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is expected to appeal. Ultimately, it is the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that will likely make the final ruling on whether Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction will be vacated or not.

The prosecution has already made it clear that they intend to file an appeal.

"Hernandez deliberately, consciously and voluntarily chose to end his life. He died a guilty man and a convicted murderer. This fact is indisputable. He should not be able to accomplish in death, what he could not have accomplished in life," Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said. "Despite the tragic ending to Aaron Hernandez's life, he should not reap the legal benefits of an antiquated rule."

"To allow the defendant to exploit this outdated rule in Massachusetts undermines confidence in the fair administration of justice, and the victim's and the community's right to the integrity and respect of a jury's verdict."
Odin Lloyd's mother Ursula Ward also spoke out during a press conference after the judge ruled to vacate Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction. She said that Hernandez was guilty and as far as she's concerned, he always will be guilty.

"But I know... one day I'm going to see my son. And that's the victory that I have that I am gonna take with me," Ward said. "Being angry is not a part of me. God didn't raise me like that."

As far as the New England Patriots and Aaron Hernandez's unpaid NFL salary are concerned, even if the Massachusetts Supreme Court rules to vacate his murder conviction, there is no doubt that the Patriots will fight making any additional payments to Hernandez's estate. Whether or not they will be successful in retaining the millions of dollars that hang in the balance is still up in the air.

[Featured Image by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]