Judge in Massachusetts rules that 2013 murder conviction can be thrown out because Hernandez died before his appeal was heard

A judge on Tuesday erased a 2013 murder conviction against former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, ruling that case law in Massachusetts had long established that defendants who die before their appeals are heard could have their convictions vacated.

Judge E Susan Garsh said she was compelled to follow precedent in ordering that Hernandezs first-degree murder conviction be vacated in the death of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez killed himself last month in prison while serving a life sentence.

Lloyds mother fought back tears at a news conference after Tuesdays hearing, saying the former New England Patriots tight end would always be guilty in the eyes of her family.

In our book, hes guilty, and hes always going to be guilty, Ursula Ward said.

Lawyers for Hernandez had argued that the states highest court had applied the legal doctrine without exception, even in cases of suicide. They said his conviction wasnt considered final because the automatic appeal he was entitled to had not been heard at the time of his death.

Prosecutor Patrick Bomberg had argued that Hernandez should not be able to accomplish in death what he could not accomplish in life.

But Garsh rejected the argument that Hernandez had forfeited his right to appeal by killing himself. She said no one can ever know for sure why Hernandez killed himself.

Ward has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Hernandez, and her lawyer has said he doesnt believe the civil case would be undermined if Hernandezs conviction was vacated.

Hernandezs appellate attorney, John Thompson, told reporters after Tuesdays hearing that he believes its still uncertain as to whether Hernandez killed himself.

Thompson says he has recent correspondence from Hernandez in which he was interested in pursuing an appeal of his conviction. Thompson also said because Hernandez died in prison, it will be difficult to definitively determine how he died.

Hernandezs lead attorney in his recent double murder trial, Jose Baez, has pledged an independent investigation into his death.

An autopsy performed by the state medical examiners office determined the cause of Hernandezs death was asphyxia by hanging and the manner of death was suicide.

His death came five days after he was acquitted in a 2012 double murder.

Hernandez, who grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, and played football at the University of Florida, was considered an up-and-coming star during his three seasons with the Patriots. He was cut from the team hours after his arrest in the killing of Lloyd.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/may/09/aaron-hernandez-murder-conviction