Former New England Patriots NFL football player Aaron Hernandez, right, listens to his defense attorney Jose Baez during a pretrial hearing at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, Pool)
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The state’s top law enforcer is urging the Supreme Judicial Court to reinstate the first-degree murder conviction of Aaron Hernandez and craft a better postscript to jailhouse deaths than simply wiping verdicts off the books. 

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office is not a party to the late Hernandez’s case, in which he was found guilty in 2015 of the shooting execution of his friend Odin L. Lloyd in North Attleboro; however, Assistant AG Eric Haskell has filed an amicus brief with the SJC in support of the Bristol District Attorney’s Office like-minded position.  Bristol prosecutors are scheduled to argue before the full bench Nov. 8. 

Haskell states in his brief his office is “concerned that the existing procedure by which a criminal conviction is ‘abated’ when the defendant dies during the pendency of his direct, of-right appeal from his conviction, is not equitable and does not adequately take account of the full range of interests impacted by a given crime.” 

On April 19, Hernandez, 27 and condemned to life in prison, was waiting
for his appeal to move forward when he was found hanging in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center just days after his stunning acquittal for the murders of two other men in Boston. 

His trial judge on the Lloyd case, the now-retired E. Susan Garsh, acted quickly to vacate Hernandez’s murder and weapon convictions in keeping with the state’s common-law procedure known as “abatement ab initio.”

“Rather than adhere to the abatement procedure, this Court should adopt a procedure that permits a representative to continue a direct, of-right appeal in substitution for a deceased defendant,” Haskell’s brief argues. 

Enabling an appeal to run its course would protect the interests of victims, Haskell said. 

Similarly, he said, a defendant’s survivors “have an interest in protecting the defendant from any reputational damage resulting from an erroneous conviction.” 

If the SJC rules to preserve the abatement procedure, Bristol prosecutors are challenging the court to decide if it should apply to defendants who kill themselves, if it appears their suicides were motivated by clearing their names post-conviction. 

Their brief does not ask for Garsh’s ruling on Hernandez to be overturned.

Lloyd, 27, was shot to death June 17, 2013, when Hernandez was still a star tight end for the New England Patriots.

— laurel.sweet@bostonherald.com