It appears that in death, Aaron Hernandez may be a free man, at least legally speaking.
The apparent suicide of the former NFL player, who had been acquitted in a 2012 double murder last Friday, may have vacated his conviction in the 2013 death of Odin Lloyd, according to NBC Boston/necn legal editor Randy Chapman.
"There is a doctrine that says when a conviction is not final, if somebody dies while the appeal is pending, that the case is then dropped," he said.
Hernandez's appeal had not yet been heard by a Massachusetts high court.
The civil case against Hernandez is also likely to be dropped, Chapman said.
John M. Thompson, Hernandez's attorney handling his appeal of the Lloyd conviction, called for a thorough investigation into his client's death.
"It's an unusual circumstance, and we would have to prepare carefully before we decide to go about it. But normally, a judgement is vacated if the defendant dies amidst an appeal," he said.
Thompson would not give details on a possible timeline for the process.
This would not be the first time a high-profile defendant's death has resulted in a removed conviction. Chapman referred to the case of John Salvi, who was convicted of murdering two people outside an abortion clinic in 1996, but then committed suicide. His murder conviction was reverse and charges were dismissed.
Chapman also said prisoners at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, where the former New England Patriots tight end was incarcerated, are not monitored all day long unless they're on suicide watch.
"If he was on watch, there might have been greater measures, but it sounds like he was in general population, but if someone wants to do this, which we have seen in the past, barricading his cell, it is certainly capable and it does happen," he said.
Hernandez was found hanging from a bed sheet attached to his cell window just after 3 a.m. on Wednesday. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at UMass Leominster.