On April 19th, disgraced NFL player Aaron Hernandez killed himself in his prison cell, officials said.  Hernandez, 27, was found hanging in his cell by corrections officers around 3:05 a.m. and pronounced dead an hour later at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center.  Hernandez was in a single cell in a general population housing unit and hanged himself with a bed sheet attached to his cell window.  Officials said Hernandez had given no indication he might try to take his own life and that he had tried blocking his door from the inside with various items.

Just days before, on April 14th, Hernandez was found not guilty in the 2012 double murders of Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado.   Hernandez was already convicted of first-degree murder in the death of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd in 2015 and was serving a sentence of life in prison without a possibility of parole.

Hernandez played three seasons with the New England Patriots and in 2012 he signed a $40 million five year contract extension that included a $12.5 million signing bonus.  The Patriots released Hernandez from the team about 90 minutes after his June 2013 arrest in the murder of Odin Lloyd.  Hernandez’s lawyers say they are skeptical of his death being a suicide while many speculate that his suicide was in part-financially motivated.

Hernandez’s arrest and termination led to enormous financial troubles as CytoSport and Puma canceled their endorsement deals and his release from the team automatically forfeited his 2015–18 salaries, totaling $19.3 million.  The Patriots voided all remaining guarantees, including his 2013 and 2014 salaries, on the grounds that those guarantees were for skill, injury, or salary cap room, and did not include being cut for “conduct detrimental to the best interests of professional football.”   The Patriots also planned to withhold $3.25 million of Hernandez’s 2012 signing bonus that was due to be paid in 2014 and to recoup the portion of the signing bonus already paid in an effort to recover some of the millions they lost when cutting him from the team.

Under Massachusetts law, it is possible for Hernandez lawyers to request to have his murder conviction vacated due to his death due to the legal principle of abatement ab initio.  The principle asserts that when a defendant dies but has not exhausted all legal appeals, the case reverts to its status “at the beginning”; technically, the conviction is vacated and the defendant is rendered “innocent”.

At the time of his death, Hernandez was in the process of filing an appeal for his 2015 first degree murder conviction.   On April 25, 2017, lawyers for Hernandez filed a motion at Massachusetts Superior Court in Fall River to vacate his murder conviction.  State prosecutors reserve the right to object to Hernandez’s request.  The family of Odin Lloyd may also petition the court not to vacate the conviction and to keep the appeal alive.

If the request is granted, a number of things can benefit Hernandez’s family and estate.  First, he would not have been in violation of his Patriots contract.  That may mean that the Patriots would have to pay the remaining $15 million of his contract to his estate.  If his murder conviction is vacated, it would also protect his estate from any civil suits from Odin Lloyd’s family because they would not be able to use evidence from the criminal trial in a lawsuit against the Hernandez estate for civil damages.

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