Boston was shaken yesterday when Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in prison, especially since Hernandez’s trial for a double murder just concluded on Friday with his acquittal. However, the former Patriots tight end has already been given a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2015. Hernandez appealed the conviction and was still in the decision process when his death was reported.
Due to a rule in Massachusetts known in as abatement ad initio, or “from the beginning,” Hernandez’s initial conviction no longer stands. Since he ended his own life in the middle of the appealing process, the case has been reverted to the beginning before his trial and conviction. This essentially means that Aaron Hernandez died a guilty man, but became innocent after that.
For the family of Lloyd, Hernandez’s innocence prevents legal closure. The term “justice system” would imply that justice is what we are entitled to, but for this family and friends of the victim, the conviction for their relative’s death is now null and void. Hernandez may no longer be with us, but his actions have hurt so many people in the process, including members of his own family. There is no closure, no final chapter to the story for Lloyd’s family and for that reason, this is upsetting. His suicide changes everything in the case. It’s horrible for the family, though they’ve seemed to forgive him for his crime, to be ripped from the security of his conviction.
The publicity of the suicide paired, Hernandez’s second trial that just wrapped up on Friday, and the appeal means that although Hernandez is innocent in the eyes of law, he is guilty in the court of public opinion. His appeal will never proceed, but that does not entitle him to a clean slate. His reputation will forever be tarnished along with his legacy.
Though Hernandez’s case was pretty cut and dry, abatement ad initio is crucial to the justice system. There must be a legal precedent to apply to all cases, even though this 2015 case leaves little to speculate about. Appeal processes are essential to cases that do require more investigation or could’ve been tampered with the first time around. If we’re allowing previously convicted criminals to enter the appeals process, including Hernandez, it would be wrong to ignore that upon their death. Abatement ad initio may be an archaic law that relatively few states still follow, but its existence is often useful. It shows that this country takes the appeals process seriously and gives all people a second chance. There are things in law that must be sweeping for the justice system to work and compromises have to be made for the greater good.
Though the voiding of his conviction is frustrating, Hernandez’s is a tragedy. Although we shall never assume one’s reasoning behind committing suicide, it’s fair to say that the decision of taking one’s own life is extremely difficult, if not painful. It’s such a shame that Hernandez never fully exercised his constitutional right to appeal, that the public never got to have another chance to hear what he has to say, and that he would leave his family, along with his victim’s family, without closure.