BOSTON (AP) — Should Aaron Hernandez’s murder conviction have been tossed just because he killed himself before his appeal was heard?
That’s what Massachusetts’ highest court will consider Thursday in a closely watched case that seeks to scrap the longstanding legal principle that made the former New England Patriots tight end innocent in the eyes of the law.
Hernandez was found guilty in 2015 of killing semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez, 27, was found dead in his prison cell days after being acquitted of most charges in a separate double-murder case.
A judge threw out Hernandez’s conviction after his death last year, citing the legal principle that holds that it’s unfair to keep a conviction in place before a defendant had a chance to clear their names on appeal.
Prosecutors say the legal doctrine is unfair to victims and their families. They are pushing the Supreme Judicial Court to allow a defendant’s estate to pursue an appeal, if they wish, otherwise the verdict would stand.
Hernandez’s lawyers, meanwhile, are urging the court to keep the legal principle in place, saying that a “policy of affirming untested criminal convictions is contrary to Massachusetts values.”
The Supreme Judicial Court is not expected to rule Thursday and usually takes months to decide cases.
The longstanding rule has led other high-profile Massachusetts figures to have their convictions erased after their death.
The child molestation conviction of former Roman Catholic priest John Geoghan, a key figure in the clergy sex abuse scandal that rocked the Boston archdiocese and spread across the globe, was vacated after he was beaten to death in 2003 in his cell at the same Massachusetts maximum-security prison.
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