When former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez died on April 19, 2017 he was a convicted murderer, now, less than a month later, that conviction has been wiped from his record.
On May 9, 2017, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh vacated Hernandez’ first-degree murder conviction resulting from the 2013 death of Odin L. Lloyd, citing a centuries-old law that states that convictions can be vacated if the defendant is in the process of appealing.
State prosecutors opposed the conviction being vacated and have vowed to take the case to the state Supreme Court. They argue that the law, which dates back to colonial times, was precisely the reason that Hernandez committed suicide.
Bristol Assistant District Attorney Patrick Bomberg said, “This is not a defendant who has arrived at the killing of himself by happenstance.” He and fellow prosecutors argued that Hernandez knew about the law and committed suicide to clear his legal standing, which could benefit his heirs. Some experts have speculated that a vacated conviction would enable his heirs to collect an almost $6 million contract from the Patriots that had been withheld when he was arrested.
But that argument didn’t sway the judge, who ruled, “This court cannot know why Hernandez may have chosen to end his life and declines to infer an intent by Hernandez to relinquish his appellate rights or an intent to interfere with the course of justice from his reported suicide, a tragic act that may have complex and myriad causes.”
Naturally, Odin Lloyd’s family members were not pleased with the court’s ruling. They openly wept in court and his mother Ursula Ward told reporters of Hernandez, “In our book, he’s guilty, and he’s going to always be guilty.” Ms. Ward, we at PROOF agree with you. But, know that he wasn’t found innocent by a jury or a judge the vacating of his conviction is simply what some would refer to as legal technicality. And although we know it doesn’t feel good or fair, unfortunately it happens in the law. Perhaps the prosecution will win the appeal and the conviction will be reinstated. In the meantime, pursuing the civil case against Hernandez’ estate may ultimately bring some sense of peace or justice.
And, as far as the civil case against Hernandez’ estate, it is and should go on. While it certainly would have been beneficial to have been able to admit into evidence Hernandez’ criminal conviction (it would have taken care of a lot of proof issues) the burden of proof in a civil matter is much lower than in a criminal matter which most know is beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, proving the underlying act–that Hernandez murdered Lloyd–will not be as difficult as it were at the criminal level. Put plainly, if there was enough proof to obtain a criminal conviction, then if that same proof is presented and understood correctly by the jury in the civil case, it should be more than sufficient to support the finding that Hernandez caused Lloyd’s wrongful death.
In fact PROOF readers, you recall that OJ was acquitted at the criminal level but was found liable at the civil level.
Another potential positive side effect of the conviction being set aside is if the 6 million from the NFL becomes available then it could potentially be used to satisfy a judgment that the jury in the civil matter awards to the Lloyd family
And another twist in the Hernandez saga? His attorneys aren’t wholly convinced that his death was a suicide or if it were, that it couldn’t have been prevented. Hernandez was found hanging from a window in his jail cell with a bedsheet around his neck, and though the state says there was no wrongdoing and it was a suicide, Hernandez’ legal team, led by Jose Baez, is conducting its own investigation into his death. It is not unlikely that Hernandez’s family will file a lawsuit if they think officials didn’t do enough to prevent his death or if they created a condition which allowed his death to occur.
If there is one thing that can be said about the Hernandez matter it is that it is tragic all around.