BOSTON â€” A request by lawyers for ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez to dismiss his murder conviction would reward his “conscious, deliberate and voluntary” act of taking his own life, prosecutors argued Monday.
Hernandez was serving a life sentence without parole in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd when he hanged himself in his prison cell on April 19. The former New England Patriots tight end died five days after being acquitted in a separate double slaying in 2012.
Last week, his lawyers asked that his murder conviction be vacated under a legal principle in Massachusetts holding that when a defendant dies before an appeal is decided, the conviction is vacated. Hernandez’s appeal hadn’t been heard yet when he hanged himself.
In a court filing Monday, Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III argued that a defendant’s death while an appeal is pending does not always require abatement, “at least where, as here, a defendant’s death is a result of his own conscious, deliberate and voluntary act.”
“In this circumstance a balance must be struck between the policy interests advanced by abatement, the effect of the defendant’s actions in frustrating the interests of justice and the interests in maintaining the validity of the conviction,” Quinn wrote.
Prosecutors also argued that vacating Hernandez’s conviction would be inconsistent with emerging law in other jurisdictions that favours “striking a reasonable balance between the rights of victims and defendants.”
They said erasing the conviction also would ignore the “negligible probability of success” of Hernandez’s appeal. They also said the legal doctrine of abatement lacks any solid or historical public policy basis.
Linda Thompson, one of Hernandez’s appellate attorneys, said last week that his conviction in the Lloyd case is not considered final because the automatic appeal he was entitled to had not been heard at the time of his death.
Thompson’s husband, John, who was also working on Hernandez’s appeal, declined to comment Monday on the prosecution’s opposition arguments.
“We’re going to have to study it and prepare a careful response,” he said.
John Salvi, convicted of killing two abortion clinic workers in 1994, had his convictions vacated after he killed himself in prison.
The child molestation conviction of John Geoghan, a Roman Catholic priest who was a key figure in the clergy sex abuse scandal, was dismissed after he was beaten to death in prison in 2003.
Judge E. Susan Garsh, who presided at Hernandez’s trial in the Lloyd killing, has scheduled a hearing on May 9 on the motion to vacate his conviction.
This story has been corrected to show prosecutors argue that dismissing the conviction would reward Hernandez for killing himself, not for killing Odin Lloyd.
Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press