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Aaron Hernandez Death Could Vacate Murder Conviction

BOSTON (CBS) -- Massachusetts State Police and the Department of Corrections are now looking into the suicide of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who killed himself in his prison cell Wednesday.

In addition, legal experts say his suicide may have dramatic legal ramifications--including the likelihood that his murder conviction in the killing of Odin Lloyd will be vacated.

WBZ-TV Chief Investigative Reporter Cheryl Fiandaca said Hernandez had been involved in a couple of incidents at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center where he has been for some time, but that none of those incidents were significant.

He was part of the general prison population at the maximum-security prison, where he was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

The Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley
The Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. (WBZ-TV)

He had just been acquitted in the 2012 murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado last Friday.

Correctional officers found him while they were doing their usual hourly rounds.

Fiandaca said investigators will be looking into the time he entered his cell, the last time guards checked on him, and if there were any incidents leading up to his death that indicated he wanted to harm himself.

WBZ-TV's Cheryl Fiandaca reports

In addition, they will look into whether or not he had any visitors or made any phone calls.

Officials at the prison said he was not currently on suicide watch, though he had been at times over the last two years. There was no report of a suicide note.

Hernandez's body has been turned over to the state medical examiner's office in Boston where an autopsy "will determine the cause and manner of death," according to a statement from Worcester District Attorney Joe Early Jr.

Hernandez's attorney, Jose Baez, said in a statement that his firm will conduct their own investigation into Hernandez's death.

Conviction Vacated?

Veteran defense attorney Randy Chapman told WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Carl Stevens that Hernandez's suicide may cause his murder conviction for Lloyd's killing to be thrown out.

"With regard to the conviction involving the Odin Lloyd murder, that will likely be vacated because the conviction was not final, meaning that the state's Supreme Court had not reviewed it for whether or not there were any errors during the course of the trial," said Chapman. "So that conviction will at some point likely be vacated upon a motion of the defense council."

Legal analyst Jennifer Roman told WBZ-TV that there is an opportunity for Hernandez to get a reversal of his conviction on appeal, even though he is dead.

"Aaron Hernandez's estate, a representative of his estate, can elect to substitute themselves as a party in the appeal process, so the appellate process can still go forward despite the fact that Hernandez is now deceased," Roman said.

The conviction could be vacated due to the Abatement Doctrine.

"There has been movement across the country to vacate this Abatement Doctrine that Massachusetts currently follows, and many other states have, because the feeling is as though there was a conviction, that should stand forever, and it shouldn't be vacated simply because the person escaped justice if you will be cause of their suicide or untimely death," said Chapman.

Aaron Hernandez in court next to a picture of Odin Lloyd, January 29, 2015. (WBZ-TV)

Stevens asked Chapman why, given the fact that Hernandez killed himself, it matters that his conviction be vacated.

"As a legal matter, it doesn't," Chapman said. "There can obviously never be anything more final than his death ... Some people will feel as though he escaped justice in some way. Some people will feel that justice was finally served."

But having the conviction vacated may have some impact on the civil case filed against him by Odin Lloyd's mother.

"The murder conviction would be something that could be used in the civil case to prove the responsibility, the liability for the deaths, that could then lead to the monetary damages for the victim's family," Chapman said.

Chapman said this situation has played out before on several occasions--such as when defrocked priest and accused sexual abuser John J. Geoghan was murdered by a fellow inmate at Souza-Baranowski in 2003, and when Planned Parenthood shooter John Salvi killed himself in prison in Walpole.

"In those cases, the convictions were vacated, and the victim's families were upset--they thought the convictions would stand for time immemorial," said Chapman. "I would suspect [Odin Lloyd's family] will probably be upset about it."

Roman also said a family member stepping in to represent Hernandez's estate may be entitled to any possessions still in Hernandez's name that might be tied up in courts.

"If Aaron Hernandez died with a will or some type of estate plan that specifically determined where his personal belongings would go, when those belongings were released from the court system, they would go to either his next of kin, which would be his daughter, or her guardian as the case may be because she's only four years old, or they may go to whomever else Aaron Hernandez may have designated in his will or otherwise," she said.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Carl Stevens reports

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