Less than two weeks after his suicide in a Massachusetts prison, a judge has ruled that the murder conviction of Aaron Hernandez will be vacated.
Judge Susan Garsh issued her ruling on Tuesday morning in Fall River, Massachusetts, after listening to arguments from Hernandez's lawyers. Her decision is not unusual because Hernandez died before exhausting appeals of his conviction in the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. The state, which had opposed the dismissal of the conviction, is expected to appeal.
"In our book, he's guilty and he's going to always be guilty, Ursula Ward, Lloyd's mother, said (via WCVB in Boston). "But I know one day I'm going to see my son and that is a victory that I have and I am going to take with me."
The death of Hernandez, 27, came just days after he was found not guilty in the trial of a 2012 double-murder. He was found in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, early on the morning of April 19. The former New England Patriots star had hanged himself using a bedsheet and his death was ruled a suicide.
Prosecutor Patrick Bomberg argued that Hernandez "should not be able to accomplish in death what he could not accomplish in life," but Hernandez's attorney responded that the state's highest court has applied the doctrine "without exception."
The long-standing legal principle called "abatement ab initio" means that a person's case reverts to its status at the beginning if he or she dies before legal appeals are exhausted.
"Its effect is to stop all proceedings ab initio (from the beginning) and render the defendant as if he or she had never been charged," Timothy A. Razel wrote in a 2007 Fordham Law Review article about the principle.
The ruling, while not unexpected, complicates lawsuits and frustrates the families of victims.
"I think that the technical quirk in the law only serves to re-victimize the victims," Robert Sherman, a lawyer who also represents clergy abuse victims, told the Boston Globe in 2003. "The satisfaction they received in knowing their complaints were vindicated by a jury now gets nullified by a technicality, and that does no justice to anybody."