The late NFL star and convicted killer Aaron Hernandez was granted an abatement on his conviction for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.
What does that mean?
It means the former New England Patriots star, who took his own life last month in prison, is now considered not guilty in the eyes of the law.
Bristol County (Mass.) Judge Susan Garsh, who presided over the original trial, ruled in favor of the star's estate, citing a bizarre law.
Massachusetts law states that if a defendant dies while a conviction is still in the process of appeal, then the previous verdict is vacated.
Hernandez committed suicide late last month while serving a sentence of life without parole for the murder of Lloyd. He was just 27.
“Abatement is the law in this Commonwealth and this court is required to follow that precedent,” Garsh said. "The Court has no other choice.”
The state is expected to appeal the controversial decision, which will most likely wind up in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
In other words, the legal battle is just beginning.
Hernandez’s attorney, John Thompson, argued that neither his client's cause of death nor any assumed motives should apply to the law.
He also noted there was no precedent in any other ruling on the issue that called for abatement not to be granted in a similar situation.
“[The original Lloyd ruling] is not a final conviction,” Thompson said, even though a jury convicted Hernandez of murder. “And that’s what matters.”
Prosecutor Patrick Bomberg argued otherwise.
Bomberg argued that Hernandez chose to die, thus making a conscious decision to forfeit his appeal as a means of being cleared.
This is supported by the suicide note to Shayanna Jenkins that basically says as much, and was never, he says, the intent of the law.
According to a state police report, Hernandez even mentioned to an unnamed fellow inmate that he was aware of the abatement law.
In one of his suicide notes, he allegedly wrote "YOURE RICH" to Jenkins (above), his fiancee and the father of his four-year-old daughter.
“The defendant should not be able to accomplish in death what he could not accomplish in life,” Bomberg said of Hernandez's efforts.
At stake is not just Hernandez’s criminal record, which is a moot point now, but his potential monetary payouts from the NFL franchise.
The Patriots may no longer be able to withhold money owed on his contract due to a conviction for murder, as they have been doing.
“We are arguing there is a motive to [commit suicide],” Bomberg said, noting the financial benefits; Garsh summarily dismissed that point.
“This court cannot know why Hernandez took his life,” Garsh said, citing other possible motives, including the athlete's increased spirituality.
She also noted that other inmates heard via a Boston radio show that Hernandez might be gay or bisexual and trying to hide that.
Also complicating matters is that if the Hernandez estate does get paid, the family of Odin Lloyd still has a wrongful death civil suit pending.
They, in turn, may be able to access any or all money the Hernandez estate gets, if it comes to that (the Patriots are expected to fight this).
The families of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, whom Hernandez was acquitted of murdering in 2012, may also be suing his estate.
A civil suit requires a lower standard of proof than a conviction in criminal court (see O.J. Simpson's $33 million judgment, for example).
Hernandez estate is currently valued at $0.00.
Lloyd’s mother and sister led a large group at the hearing of supporters for Lloyd, a former semi-pro football player and Boston landscaper.
That group included Shaneah Jenkins, Lloyd's former girlfriend and the sister of Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, who was not present.
The Lloyd supporters wept at the ruling.
After a lengthy trial, a Bristol County jury ruled in 2015 that Hernandez shot Lloyd six times in an industrial park less than a mile from his home.
The Bristol, Conn., native won a national title at the University of Florida and played three seasons with the Patriots, appearing in one Super Bowl.