He'll enter the history books as a former NFL star and a one-time inmate but, ultimately, not a convicted murderer. Judge E. Susan Garsh on Tuesday agreed to erase Aaron Hernandez's conviction in a 2013 murder because he died before his appeal was heard. Garsh said she was compelled to follow Massachusetts case law, which has long established that defendants who have not had the merits of their appeals decided before they die have the right to have their convictions vacated, reports the AP. Prosecutor Patrick Bomberg had argued Hernandez "should not be able to accomplish in death what he could not accomplish in life." Lawyers for Hernandez countered that the state's highest court had applied the legal doctrine "without exception," even in cases—like Hernandez's—of suicide.
Garsh rejected the argument that Hernandez had forfeited his right to appeal by taking his own life on April 19, saying no one can ever know for sure why Hernandez killed himself. Prosecutors plan to appeal Garsh's decision, reports CNN, which notes they based their original argument on two pieces of evidence: an inmate's testimony that Hernandez had heard a "rumor" about the legal principle, and the suicide note left for his fiancee. "YOU'RE RICH," he wrote to Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez. CNN explains the mother of Odin Lloyd, the man Hernandez was originally convicted of murdering, hit Hernandez's estate with a wrongful death lawsuit. The absence of a criminal conviction could adversely affect her civil case.