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The first-degree murder conviction of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, arising from the 2013 shooting death of fellow player, Odin L. Lloyd, was vacated due to Hernandez’s suicide while incarcerated. Hernandez was found hanging in his maximum security prison cell on April 19th, shortly after he had been acquitted of two other murders.

Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh relied on centuries-old law that states if a defendant dies while the conviction is on direct appeal, it is as if the prosecution never happened. The legal principle, known as "abatement ab initio" - is a Latin phrase meaning "from the beginning." As the Judge noted, “if a defendant dies while his conviction is on direct appeal, the conviction is vacated and the indictment dismissed, thus abating the entire prosecution as if it never happened."

Based on information that included a letter to Hernandez’s fiance, the prosecutor argued that the conviction should not be dismissed because Hernandez knew that his suicide would result in vacatur of his conviction. It was noted that Hernandez’s estate could potentially be owed money, potentially around $6 million, from his Patriots contract that was never paid. The Judge indicated that the court had no choice based on the law.

The prosecution has vowed to immediately appeal and fight the decision all the way to the State’s highest court.

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Author:  Sheri Steinmetz, Lexis-Nexis Case Law Editor


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