Aaron Her­nan­dez’ mur­der con­vic­tion is tossed

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By DENISE LAVOIE AP Le­gal Af­fairs Writer

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) - A judge on Tues­day erased a 2013 mur­der con­vic­tion against former NFL star Aaron Her­nan-dez, rul­ing that case law in Mas­sachusetts has long es­tab­lished that de­fen­dants who die be­fore their ap­peals am heard should have their con­vic­tions va­cated.

Bris­tol County Su­pe­rior Court Judge E. Su­san Garsh said she was com­pelled to fol­low prece­dent in or­der­ing that Her­nan-dez's first-de­gree mur­der con­vic­tion be dis­missed in the death of semi-pro­fes-sional foot­ball player Odin Lloyd. Her-nan­dez killed him­self in prison last month while serv­ing a life sen­tence.

Lloyd's mother fought back tears af­ter the rul­ing Tues­day, say­ing the former New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots tight end would al-ways be guilty in the eyes of her fam­ily.

"In our book, he's guilty, and he's al­ways go­ing to be guilty," Ur­sula Ward said dur-ing a news con­fer­ence.

Pros­e­cu­tors said they would ap­peal the rul­ing to the Mas­sachusetts Supreme Ju-di­cial Court.

Lawyers for Her­nan­dez had ar­gued that the SJC had ap­plied the le­gal doc­trine 'With­out ex­cep­tion," even in cases of sui-cide. They said his con­vic­tion wasn't con-sidered fi­nal be­cause the au­to­matic ap­peal he was en­ti­tled to had not been heard.

Pros­e­cu­tor Pa­trick Bomberg said Her­nan­dez's sui­cide was a "cal­cu­lated act." He cited a re­port is­sued last week from the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tion that said Her­nan­dez told an­other in­mate he had heard a "ru­mor" that if an in­mate has an open ap­peal on his case and dies in prison, he will be ac­quit­ted.

Garsh said there maybe "com­plex and myr­iad" rea­sons that Her­nan­dez killed him­self five days af­ter he was ac­quit­ted in a 2012 dou­ble mur­der. She cited a re­port from prison of­fi­cials that some in­mates knew about a ra­dio broad­cast that spec-ulated Her­nan­dez may have been gay. She also said a "pos­si­ble men­tal dis­tur-bance" was re­flected in a sui­cide note to his fi­ancee in which he said his death was "the Supre­mos, the almightys (sic) plan, not mine."

Lloyd's mother has filed a wrong­ful-death law­suit against Her­nan­dez. Her at-tor­ney, Dou­glas Shoff, said he doesn't be­lieve the civil case will be un­der­mined by the dis­missal of Her­nan­dez's con­vic-tion.

An at­tor­ney in Her­nan­dez's crim­i­nal case filed court pa­pers last month that said his es­tate is cur­rently worth "zero."

Shell said the only iden­ti­fi­able as­sets he knows of are Her­nan­dez's house, val­ued at $1.3 mil­lion, and a Hum­mer. But he noted that a mes­sage Her­nan­dez left for his fi­ancee said, in part: "You're rich."

"We don't know what that refers to. We'd like to find out," he said.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the Pa­tri­ots, the NFL and the NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion de­clined to com­ment on whether the team has any out­stand­ing fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions to Her-nan­dez or his es­tate.

Her­nan­dez's ap­pel­late at­tor­ney, John Thomp­son, told re­porters he be­lieves it's still un­cer­tain as to whether Her­nan­dez took his own life. Thomp­son said he has re­cent cor­re­spon­dence from Her­nan­dez in which he said he was in­ter­ested in pur-su­ing an ap­peal of his con­vic­tion.

Her­nan­dez lead at­tor­ney in the dou­ble mur­der trial, Jose Baez, has pledged to in-de­pen­dently in­ves­ti­gate the death.

State po­lice said in an in­ves­tiga­tive re-port that Her­nan­dez was found naked April 19 and hang­ing from a bed sheet fled around the win­dow bars of his cell. Cor­rec­tion of­fi­cers found that card­board had been shoved into the tracks of Her-nan­dez's cell door to pre­vent it from open-ing. Her­nan­dez also had put sham­poo on the floor to make it slip­pery, the re­port states.

An au­topsy by the state med­i­cal exam-in­ees of­fice de­ter­mined the cause of death was as­phyxia by hang­ing and the man­ner of death was sui­cide.

Her­nan­dez, who grew up in Bris­tol, Con­necti­cut, and played foot­ball at the Univer­sity of Florida, was con­sid­ered an up-and-com­ing star dur­ing his three sea-sons with the Pa­tri­ots. He was cut from the team hours af­ter his ar­rest in Lloyd's killing.

Bris­tol County District At­tor­ney Thomas Quinn III said Tues­day that the le­gal doc-trine that prompted Garth to va­cate Her-nan­dez's con­vic­tion is "ar­chaic."

'De­spite the tragic end­ing to Aaron Her-nan­dez's life, he should not reap the le­gal ben­e­fits of an­ti­quated rule," Quinn said.

The prac­tice of posthu­mously va­cat­ing con­vic­tions is hotly de­bated. Some states have doc­trines sim­i­lar to Mas­sachusetts case law that says con­vic­tions aren't fi­nal un­til the mer­its of a de­fen­dant's ap­peal have been de­cided. Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 Min­nesota Supreme Court rul­ing, more than a dozen states al­low ap­peals to go for-ward even af­ter the de­fen­dant dies, and the con­vic­tion is only va­cated if the ap­pel-late court finds that a new trial would have been war­ranted.

Fed­eral courts have widely adopted the abate­ment prin­ci­ple.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MASSLIVE.COM

Aaron Her­nan­dez ap­pears dur­ing a hear­ing at Suf­folk Su­pe­rior Court.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF COLLEGEFOOTBALLTALK

Death of Aaron Her­nan­dez ruled sui­cide

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