Aaron Hernandez Death Now Makes Him Innocent of Murder; Massachusetts Law

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Via WCPO

The shocking death of Aaron Henandez may invoke a cash payday for many people in the former Athlete’s family.  As previously reported by GCE, Massachusetts prison officials found Aaron Hernandez hanging from a bed sheet attached to his cell window just after 3 a.m. on Wednesday.  His door was barricaded from the inside; an apparent suicide. Hernandez was pronounced dead about an hour later at UMass Leominster.  His death came less than a week after he was acquitted of murder charges in the shooting deaths of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston in 2012.  Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in June 2013. Hernandez was found guilty of murdering Lloyd in 2015.

Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center via Fox 61

Hernandez’s death could vacate the 2015 conviction.

Under Massachusetts law, a doctrine called abatement ab initio provides that if someone dies after a conviction but before the completion of their appeal, the person’s legal records in that matter are wiped clean. In the eyes of the law, the entire matter is blotted out.  It is as if the conviction never happened.

Massachusetts is one of six or seven states that recognize abatement ab initio.

The idea of the law is embedded in the principle of the presumption of innocence.  We generally agree that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, the process is not over until a person has exhausted all appeals.  Since a guilty verdict in the Superior Court can be overturned on appeal, the presumption of innocence remains through the appeals process.  After all, when a case gets decided on appeal, the court can overturn a verdict or order a new trial; thereby voiding a guilty verdict.

Because Hernandez, by taking his own life, is unable to continue with his appeal, the conviction will be vacated.

Even under federal law, the conviction has to be vacated.

Hernandez’s murder charge will not get vacated automatically, however.  In order to take advantage of the law, Hernandez’s attorney must file a motion for abatement ab initio in court; a judge has to order it.  The former NFL tight end’s lawyer would likely file his motion within the next 30 days.

Attorney William Kennedy represents the estate of Safiro Furtado and the family of Daniel de Abreu in wrongful-death lawsuits against Hernandez. He said despite Hernandez’s acquittal, the families will go forward with their civil lawsuits which will now be against Aaron Hernandez’s estate.

The attorney who represents Lloyd’s mother, Douglas Sheff, says they will also continue their the lawsuit against Hernandez.  He said he strongly believes they will win—with or without the conviction on record.

Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, fiancee and their daughter (Keith Bedford /The Boston Globe via AP, Pool)

The reason for the decisions to move forward may be related to the anticipated flush of cash on the Hernandez estate. SI reports that if the charges get vacated, Aaron Hernandez’s family could be due money from the Patriots and NFL. The expungement of charges could force New England to pay Hernandez’s family some of his signing bonus, $3.25 million of which was withheld due to the conviction of his 2012 murder charge. The ultimate question for lawyers reviewing the contracts will be whether Hernandez voided the contract by violating other provisions. If his actions didn’t void the contract, his estate will be owed a large sum of money.

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