Aaron Hernandez died an innocent man due to a bizarre legal technicality that could offer some insight into the former NFL star’s suicide on Wednesday and could protect whatever wealth remains from his football career.
Prison officials found Hernandez dead in his cell Wednesday morning, with the former New England Patriots tight end reportedly blockading his door and hanging himself in the cell. Hernandez had just been acquitted of the 2012 double homicide days earlier, and his lawyer had filed a motion to void the conviction of the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.
But because of an obscure legal principle, Aaron Hernandez’s death during the appeal process means he dies innocent of the 2013 murder in the eyes of the law.
As the Boston Globe reported, Hernandez will remain technically innocent forever.
“Though Hernandez was convicted in 2015 of murdering Odin L. Lloyd of Boston, Hernandez’s appeal was not complete. Abatement ab initio means ‘from the beginning,’ [Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel to the Massachusetts Bar Association] said, and it means that upon a person’s death, if they have not exhausted their legal appeals, their case reverts to its status at the beginning — it’s as if the trial and conviction never happened.”
Rosanna Cavallaro, a law professor at Suffolk University, told CNN that the ruling is unique to Massachusetts and a handful of other states.
“The idea is that if an appeal hasn’t happened, there’s a chance that a conviction has an error in it,” she told CNN. “Rather than have someone with that incomplete decision that they’re guilty, the state chooses instead to say that conviction is abated — as if it never had happened.”
That means any lawsuits from Lloyd’s family may not be able to move forward, Healy noted. Should the family of the murder victim file civil charges and try to get some of the remaining fortune of the former NFL player, they would not be able to use any evidence from his criminal trial. Civil trials also use convictions as a basis, other legal experts noted, making any attempts to gain money from Hernandez’s estate a difficult matter.
It’s not clear how much money the former Patriots player had left. There had already been reports that Hernandez’s wealth was dwindling rapidly during his trial and process of appeals.
“Despite some pretty wild and baseless speculative allegations made about piles of money, there are no piles of money,” his lawyer, John Fitzpatrick, told a judge in 2015, according to the Associated Press).
The strange legal situation could eventually lead to changes in the laws of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, Healy told the Boston Globe.
“In other states that have abandoned abatement ab initio, Healy said, the move came after high-profile killers had their histories wiped clean,” the report noted. “Healy said he would not be surprised if some lawmaker introduced legislation in Massachusetts to change the law.”
The reason for Aaron Hernandez’s suicide remained unclear. Family members said he had shown no signs that he was about to take his life, and prison officials also said they had no reason to suspect he might be suicidal. To complicate matters further, Hernandez left no suicide note.
The former NFL star’s death prompted some to question the circumstances.
“We’ve learned attorney Jose Baez — who just got a not guilty verdict for Aaron last week in the double murder case — has launched an investigation on behalf of Hernandez’ family and they are not buying the suicide story,” TMZ reported. “We’re told Baez believes this could be a murder either by inmates or the folks who run the prison.”
But whatever the reasons or the circumstances might be, the timing of Aaron Hernandez’s death means he will be forever considered an innocent man in the eyes of the law.
[Featured Image by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]