Judge vacates Hernandez murder conviction, dismisses charges

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez turns to look in the direction of the jury as he reacts to his double murder acquittal at Suffolk Superior Court Friday, April 14, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, Pool)

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — The same judge who presided over the trial of Aaron Hernandez ruled Tuesday morning to vacate his murder conviction and drop the charge against the former NFL star. Two firearms charges were also vacated.

With Odin Lloyd’s family sitting in the front row, Bristol County Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh said she was required to follow a legal precedent that allows a conviction to be vacated if the defendant dies before the direct appeal has been decided.

The former New England Patriots tight end hanged himself in his prison cell April 19 while serving a life sentence in the killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. His suicide came just five days after he was acquitted in a Boston double murder in 2012.

John and Linda Thompson, the attorneys who had been preparing to represent Hernandez in his appeal, filed for “abatement ab initio,” the legal term for the process, after Hernandez’s death.

In a hearing Tuesday morning, lawyers for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts argued that Hernandez lost his right to abatement when he took his own life, claiming he did so intentionally because he knew his conviction would be thrown out.

Judge Garsh did not agree. In delivering her decision, she said Hernandez’s suicide note released last week pointed toward religion and possible “mental disturbance” as reasons for his suicide.

“To allow an archaic rule to erase the jury’s verdict flies in the face of common sense and basic fairness.” – Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III

“This court cannot know why Hernandez chose to end his life,” Judge Garsh said. “I decline to infer an intent by Hernandez to relinquish his appellate rights, or an intent to interfere with the course of justice, from his suicide.”

“I know everyone is looking for me to be angry,” said Odin Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, after the ruling. “But I’m not. He’s guilty, and he will always be guilty.”

Ward, a self-described woman of faith, said God would be the ultimate judge.

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III delivered a strong rebuke of the principle behind the dismissal of the charges after the decision was made.

“To allow an archaic rule to erase the jury’s verdict flies in the face of common sense and basic fairness,” he said.

Quinn said his office would file an appeal.

“Aaron Hernandez deliberately, consciously and voluntarily chose to end his life,” said Quinn. “He died a guilty man and a convicted murder. This fact is indisputable. He should not be able to accomplish in death what could not have accomplished in life.”

Doug Sheff, the attorney representing Ward in the wrongful death suit against Hernandez’s estate, said the civil suit would continue; it is separate from the criminal case and does not require a conviction.

“The civil suit will go on just fine,” Sheff said outside court. He has previously called on the Patriots to pay out any money now owed to Aaron Hernandez’s estate, in hopes it would end up in the hands of Lloyd’s family. The Patriots have declined to comment on players’ contracts or financial terms.

Sheff said Tuesday they are still looking into what assets may exist outside of Hernandez’s house and car. The car was sold for about $20,000 and the money is being held by the court while the civil case is pending, Sheff said.

“We did take particular note the other day to the handwritten note that said “you’re rich,”‘ Sheff added, referring to the suicide note addressed to Hernandez’s fiancée released last week. “We don’t know what that refers to, and we’d like to find out.”

Separately, a judge in New Bedford Tuesday denied a motion filed by Hernandez’s fiancee Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez requesting an injunction against the release of further writings left behind by Hernandez.