Mass. court urged to end rule eras­ing Her­nan­dez’ con­vic­tion


BOS­TON — A le­gal prin­ci­ple that erased for­mer New Eng­land Pa­triot’s player Aaron Her­nan­dez’s mur­der con­vic­tion af­ter he killed him­self in prison is out­dated, un­fair and should not stand, a Mas­sachusetts pros­e­cu­tor told the state’s high­est court Thurs­day.

Bris­tol County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Thomas Quinn III said it doesn’t make sense the for­mer New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots tight end is now in­no­cent in the eyes of the law just be­cause he died be­fore his ap­peal could be heard. Quinn is urg­ing the court to re­in­state Her­nan­dez’s con­vic­tion and do away with the le­gal prin­ci­ple for fu­ture cases.

“He goes through a full trial, a jury who speaks for the pub­lic con­victs him and be­cause he dies, in this case com­mits sui­cide, the whole thing is wiped out like it never hap­pened? It’s not fair or just and should be changed,” Quinn told re­porters af­ter the hear­ing.

Her­nan­dez was found guilty in 2015 of killing semi-pro­fes­sional foot­ball player Odin Lloyd. Two years later, the 27-year-old was found dead in his prison cell days af­ter be­ing ac­quit­ted of most charges in a sep­a­rate dou­ble-mur­der case.

A judge threw out Her­nan­dez’s con­vic­tion last year, cit­ing the le­gal prin­ci­ple that holds that a de­fen­dant con­victed at trial who dies be­fore an ap­peal is heard should no longer be con­sid­ered guilty in the eyes of the law, thereby re­turn­ing the case to its pre­trial sta­tus.

Le­gal ex­perts say the doc­trine, rooted in cen­turies of English law, re­quires a con­vic­tion not be con­sid­ered fi­nal un­til an ap­peal can de­ter­mine whether mis­takes were made that de­prived the de­fen­dant of a fair trial.

John Thomp­son, Her­nan­dez’s ap­pel­late at­tor­ney, told the Supreme Ju­di­cial Court there’s noth­ing wrong with the doc­trine and the al­terna- tives floated by Quinn are prob­lem­atic.

“The jury’s de­ci­sion is not the end-all be-all,” Thomp­son said. “It is an opin­ion ar­rived at by 12 peo­ple fol­lowed by a process that is sub­ject to de­fect.”

The Supreme Ju­di­cial Court typ­i­cally takes sev­eral months to is­sue a de­ci­sion.

How other states han­dle cases such as Her­nan­dez’s varies widely. Some states like Mas­sachusetts toss the con­vic­tions, while oth­ers dis­miss the de­fen­dant’s ap­peal and the con­vic­tion stands.

Other states al­low ap­pel­late courts to con­sider a dead de­fen­dant’s case, pros­e­cu­tors say.

Quinn wants court to al­low a de­fen­dant’s es­tate to pur­sue an ap­peal, if they wish; oth­er­wise the ver­dict would stand.

Sev­eral jus­tices seemed in­ter­ested in an ap­proach crafted by the Alabama Supreme Court, which di­rected the state to sim­ply note in the court record the con­vic­tion was nei­ther af­firmed nor re­versed be­cause the de­fen­dant died while the ap­peal was pend­ing.

But oth­ers seemed puz­zled over what to do.

“I’m strug­gling with this be­cause we don’t have any good op­tions,” said Ralph Gants, chief jus­tice of the Mas­sachusetts Supreme Ju­di­cial Court.

Quinn pointed to other high-pro­file Mas­sachusetts crim­i­nals who had their con­vic­tions erased af­ter their death, in­clud­ing John Salvi, who was con­victed of killing two abor­tion clinic work­ers and wound­ing five other peo­ple dur­ing a shoot­ing ram­page in Brook­line in 1994.

Ro­man Catholic priest John Geoghan, a key fig­ure in the clergy sex abuse scan­dal that rocked the Bos­ton arch­dio­cese and spread across the globe, also had his child mo­lesta­tion con­vic­tion va­cated af­ter he was beaten to death in 2003 in his cell at the same Mas­sachusetts max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison where Her­nan­dez died.

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