Court Delivers Justice on Hernandez Ruling
A life sentence ends with death -- but not the guilty verdict on which it’s based.
That’s what the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday in the case of former New England Patriots’ player Aaron Hernandez, whose culpability in the murder of his friend Odin Lloyd also had ceased after he committed suicide in 2017.
The SJC’s precedent-setting decision overturned an archaic, little understood legal doctrine, abatement ab initio, which directs a conviction to be dismissed if the defendant dies while in the process of appealing that judgment.
Writing for the high court, SJC Justice Elspeth Cypher stated that abatement ab initio is “no longer consonant with the circumstances of contemporary life, if, in fact, it ever was.”
In other words, if it ever made any legal sense, it certainly doesn’t in this day and age.
All of which means Hernandez’s conviction for the 2013 murder of Lloyd, a semi-pro football player, stands. Hernandez, the talented but troubled Patriots tight end, was found guilty in 2015. Two years later, the 27-year-old killed himself in his prison cell.
In the interim, Hernandez’s defense team had begun the appeal of his life sentence, which was still wending its way through the courts at the time of his suicide. His lawyers, citing the abatement ab initio doctrine, succeeded in getting his murder conviction erased.
Cypher who dismissed suggestions that this ill-conceived interpretation is a longstanding legal precedent in Massachusetts, essentially said a person’s death during an appeal can’t change the legal circumstances that initiated this process -- a guilty verdict.
We can’t understand why it took so long to jettison this counterintuitive slice of legal nonsense. Its mere existence defies common sense.
A presumption of innocence extends until a verdict is rendered. And under no circumstances should it be arbitrarily reinstated in the death of the guilty party during an almost certain appeal.
Sadly, it took a legal proceeding of this magnitude to shine a light on this indefensible injustice. We can only imagine the compounding of personal pain the family of Odin Lloyd must have felt to see the murderer of their loved one exonerated by the cowardly act of taking his life.
We can only hope this ruling gives them some measure of solace -- and justice. Apparently, it has.
“This decision has helped the family tremendously to obtain closure from the horrible loss of their beloved Odin. He was an inspiration to all who knew him and a devoted member of his family and the entire community,” Doug Scheff, the attorney for Lloyd’s estate, told the Boston Herald.
It’s unfortunate that this decision only applies to Hernandez and future cases, and not enacted retroactively, which would have allowed other victims’ families some vindication and closure.
We wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments of Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III, whose office won that 2013 murder conviction, when he said of Hernandez’s just fate: “What he could not have accomplished in life, he should not be able to attain in death.”