The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts has started a review of a state legal principle that wiped out the murder conviction of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez after his suicide.
On Thursday, the justices heard arguments from prosecutors as to why convictions shouldn’t be erased if those found guilty die before an appellate court has reviewed facts of the trial.
Hernandez was convicted on April 15, 2015 of the 2013 death of semipro football player Odin Lloyd in North Attleborough, Mass.
The 27-year-old Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell on April 19, 2017, with his death ruled a suicide. He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The state’s highest court in 2016 refused to change the legal rule in connection with another case, but the Hernandez prosecutors have taken up the cause. Attorney General Maura Healey is supporting the effort of Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III, who is seeking to have Hernandez’s conviction reinstated.
“The current practice ... does not consider the interest of the other parties who have an interest in the outcome,’’ said Quinn, per the Boston Globe, before arguing the case Thursday. He said victims’ relatives, jurors and the public have interest in such cases.
After the hearing Thursday, Quinn told reporters this about the Hernandez case: “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.”
The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to take several months to issue a decision.
The Patriots selected Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He teamed with Rob Gronkowski to form a formidable tight end duo and before the 2012 season, New England signed Hernandez to a five-year, $41 million contract extension that would have expired in 2018.
The team released him the day of his arrest in the Lloyd case.
—Field Level Media