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Judge Vacates Aaron Hernandez's Murder Conviction

The murder conviction of Aaron Hernandez, seen here during a 2013 court hearing, was thrown out because he died before an appeal could be heard.

A Massachusetts judge has thrown out the murder conviction of Aaron Hernandez because the former NFL star died in prison before his appeal could be heard. The ruling comes nearly three weeks after Hernandez killed himself.

Lawyers for Hernandez filed the motion to vacate the conviction shortly after he was found hanging in the cell where he was serving a life sentence for the killing of Odin Lloyd. The motion had been expected to prevail, and on Tuesday, Judge E. Susan Garsh said legal precedent required the ruling.

"Basically what this means for Aaron Hernandez is that he will have in fact died an innocent man," Martin Healy, chief legal counsel of the Massachusetts Bar Association, told member station WBUR last month.

Arguing against overturning the murder conviction in court Tuesday, Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn, who prosecuted Hernandez, said the disgraced former New England Patriots player "should not be able to accomplish in death what he could not accomplish in life."

WBUR's Steve Brown reports that despite the ruling, Lloyd's mother, Ursula, said of Hernandez on Tuesday that "he's guilty and will always be guilty."

The legal doctrine behind Tuesday's ruling is known as abatement ab initio ("from the beginning"). In addition to erasing a criminal record, the doctrine has previously complicated attempts to recoup damages — attempts made by either the government or victims of crime.

One of the most famous applications of abatement ab initio occurred in 2006, when a federal court vacated the fraud convictions against Ken Lay after the former Enron CEO died of a heart attack.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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